Sunday, July 13, 2003

New laws OK'd online police stings

Case of Cincinnati radio host led to change in Ohio

By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The arrest in 2000 of Jim Fox, a popular Cincinnati radio DJ, prompted new laws in Ohio allowing police to pose as children to surf the Internet for sex predators.

Fox was arrested in Xenia for soliciting a 14-year-old girl online. The "teen" turned out to be an undercover police officer. At the time, the crime was a misdemeanor, and Fox drew a 30-day suspended jail sentence, probation and orders to undergo counseling.

"It really brought to light the dangers of individuals soliciting children on the Internet for sex," state Sen. Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek, says.

Ohio "importuning" laws already made it a crime for anyone over age 18 to use a computer or phone to solicit sex from a child. But Austria successfully pushed to make the crime a felony and to specifically allow police to go undercover online.

Changes to the law, which took effect in 2001, also call for anyone convicted of importuning to be deemed a "sexually oriented offender," allowing law enforcement officers to track where they're living.

The change meant repeat offender Todd Buffington didn't get a break the second time around.

Buffington, a dispatcher for a suburban Columbus police department, was arrested by Xenia officers for importuning in late 2001 and sentenced to probation. But he was at it again this year and was arrested by Columbus police. This time, the importuning charge landed Buffington in prison.

Now, many states have similar laws. Others, including Kentucky and Indiana, don't have specific legislation for the crime-fighting technique, but they also don't have laws preventing it.

At least 20 police agencies in Southwest Ohio track predators online by posing as children. Locally, city and county officers jointly work the Internet beat as members of the Hamilton County Regional Electronics and Computer Investigations Task Force.

Undercover tracking of sexual predators online got under way in earnest in January 2002.



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