Saturday, July 13, 2002

Xenia police teach how to catch online predators

By Janice Morse,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CENTERVILLE, Ohio — “Collectors” and “travelers” are among the predators lurking in the murky, vast and sometimes slimy waters of the Internet.

        The collectors want to gather as much child pornography as they can.

        The travelers want to entice teen chat-room buddies to meet them for sex.

    To date, the Xenia unit has caught 39 men who traveled to the Xenia area in hopes of meeting a “hottie” who was actually an undercover cop posing as a teenage girl.
    The unit's first capture: longtime Cincinnati-area radio personality Jim Fox (Allen D. Pruett). In April 2000, he drove to Xenia to meet a 14-year-old girl. Mr. Fox pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and got no jail time.
    Last month, Xenia police stung a Cincinnati Bible College student. Jonathan Kolmorgen, 34, had been chatting with an undercover cop masquerading as a 14-year-old girl, and drove to Xenia intending to meet “her,” Mr. King said.
    Although he had interned for a few weeks at a West Chester Township church, police on Friday said they found no evidence children at the church were victimized.
        Across the Tristate and nation, more police officers are learning how to snare both types of criminals, despite limited resources.

        “We're casting like a little net into the ocean, but we're catching some of the worst,” said Craig C. King, an assistant prosecutor in Greene County, where the Xenia Police Division became one of the first Tristate police agencies to develop an Internet Child Protection Unit.

        Since its inception in March 2000, the unit has arrested 39 men in its Internet stings, spawned more than 400 child pornography and exploitation prosecutions in about 35 states, educated parents and children on Internet risks, and trained dozens of police officers throughout Ohio.

        Being a cybercop, they learn, requires an odd mix of legal, ethical, technological and pop-culture know-how.

        This week, the Xenia department taught about a dozen more officers in its sixth session of “How to Net Sexual Predators on the "Net,” which investigators from Hamilton and Butler counties attended earlier this year.

        Xenia police hold the workshops in conjunction with PLE (Professional Law Enforcement) Group in nearby Centerville.

        The Online Child Exploitation and Victimization Focus Group cites studies showing that more than 28.5 million American children use the Internet — and one in five users ages 10-17 were propositioned for sex online.

        “I think parents still really have no idea what dangers are out there,” Mr. King said. “Some people think that these guys who do these crimes are harmless computer nerds who don't hurt anybody, and that it's all fantasy; but that's not true. They're dangerous people that are out to prey on our children.”

        A sex-offender treatment program's study of 73 “travelers” showed the individuals at first admitted to physical contact with one or two victims apiece. But after they underwent lie-detector tests, they collectively admitted to 1,247 contacts, Mr. King said. “That shows they're not harmless,” he said.

        Would-be predators meet victims in online chat rooms, which may allow them to post “profiles” about themselves: age, sex, hobbies, place of residence.

        But even seemingly innocuous tidbits can act as shark bait.

        Xenia Police Detective Alonzo Wilson used an overhead projection of his computer screen to demonstrate for officers at Wednesday's workshop.

        He created a profile: a divorced father from Ohio, with two girls, ages 12 and 14. Then he scrolled down a list of chat rooms whose titles suggest predators might be there.

        In less than a minute, one chat room user remarked: “Your girls, I bet, are very pretty. ... Do you play with them?” That user also suggested he might be able to join the divorced father and his two daughters on an upcoming vacation, and vividly described his sexual fantasies.

        None of that was illegal, but it still left officers in the room shaking their heads in disgust.

        “You ought to see how wild they go when I get on here with my profile saying I'm a young female,” Detective Wilson said. “It's all about your profile. Your profile is what makes you attractive to these people.”

        Mr. King said he can't prosecute every case that crosses the line into illegal behavior. It's illegal just to use the Internet to proposition a minor for sex, he said, “but the only guys I prosecute are the ones who show up.”


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