The Department of Justice (DOJ) is boasting the takedown of nearly 1,700 child predators during an operation that spanned the country.
Included in the two-month long “Broken Heart” operation are 27 cases generated in Franklin County, according to Sheriff Steve Pelton.
On Tuesday, the DOJ said the nationwide operation — conducted by Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces -— identified 308 offenders who either produced child pornography or committed child sexual abuse, and 357 children who suffered recent, ongoing or historical sexual abuse or were exploited in the production of child pornography.
Pelton said the sheriff’s office is a member of ICAC, and began investigating cases including: child enticement, obscenity directed toward a minor, distribution of child pornography, possession of child pornography, case referrals of victims identified in other jurisdictions and identifications of child victims.
“The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has and will continue to take an aggressive stance to ensure the safety of our children,” Pelton said.
Furthermore, he asks that anyone who suspects someone may be exploiting a child call the sheriff’s office at 636-583-2560. Neighborhood watch groups interested in a social media presentation on ways to safeguard children also should call the office.
There are 61 ICAC task forces in the U.S. that are comprised of more than 4,500 federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies.
Franklin County Detective Sgt. Jacob Walk is a member of the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. He previously was working in St. Charles County, but since January he has been stationed at the sheriff’s office, according to Pelton.
The task forces led the coordinated operation in April and May. During the operation, the task forces investigated more than 18,500 complaints of technology-facilitated crimes targeting children and delivered more than 2,150 presentations on internet safety to over 201,000 youth and adults.
The operation targeted suspects who produce, distribute, receive and possess child pornography; engage in online enticement of children for sexual purposes; engage in the sex trafficking of children; and travel across state lines or to foreign countries and sexually abuse children.
Earlier this month, the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office said there will be an increase of child porn cases prosecuted locally instead of in federal courts.
Matt Becker, prosecutor, told The Missourian that the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and municipal police forces in the county are highly trained in investigating and locating suspects involved in viewing, sharing and manufacturing child pornography videos and photographs.
Becker’s office is currently prosecuting six child pornography cases, with over 30 charges, from 2018 and 2019.
The program is funded through the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) within the Office of Justice Programs (OJP).
In 1998, OJJDP launched the ICAC Task Force Program to help federal, state and local law enforcement agencies enhance their investigative responses to offenders who use the internet, online communication systems or computer technology to exploit children.
To date, ICAC task forces have reviewed more than 922,000 complaints of child exploitation, which have resulted in the arrest of more than 95,500 individuals. In addition, since the ICAC program’s inception, more than 708,500 law enforcement officers, prosecutors and other professionals have been trained on techniques to investigate and prosecute ICAC-related cases.