The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is a unit that has taken dozens of predators off the streets and put them behind bars. It is a unit that until now has labored from a secret location enticing and arresting people who troll the Internet for children. The Cuyahoga County Unit was a first when it was formed a dozen years ago. In the years since it has been copied across the nation. As a result police nationwide are able to trade information on pedophiles, move in, and make arrests.
The unit fights crime using computers. Typing and scrolling in on-line chat rooms where pedophiles may be lurking. At times a dozen officers at once gathering evidence from a bunker like room. Pretending to be young boys or girls. A task force that operates in secret and remains undercover.
Former County Prosecutor Bill Mason established the unit and told 19 action news "As soon as one of our undercover agents will start to give lets say a screen name of cheerin 12, that tells the sexual predators out there that it's probably a cheerleader at the age of 12."
Mason says it is like shooting fish in a barrell. The bait typed out, and almost immediately the replies come he says "The conversations they're having usually leads to some sort of sexual conduct." It's called grooming. The adult bringing up sex, at first casually followed by lol or laughing out loud. In a conversation we monitored there was a suggestion of masturbation, or a meeting. The predator typing I'll come over and you can play with it. Would it be fun for you rubbing my penis? Lol the officer writes. I don't know never done nothing like that before. The predator moves in typing ok, wanna try it. Then the revealing pictures.
Each officer handles multiple conversations at once. Working to make the predator comfortable in luring the child the officers are pretending to be. Mason says "It's an art what they're doing, because they need to learn the lingo of a young girl and talk like a young girl so that the person they're talking to or emailing back and forth with believe that in fact they are a young child."
The unit boasts high technology equipment that can make an officer sound like a young child if there is telephone contact with a predator.
It is not just office work, when a meeting is set up, there is always a one on one confrontation, and an arrest.
While ICAC has put dozens of predators away, no doubt there are hundreds more out there. Lurking. Mason has a warning for parents "They need to be aware that the Internet has allowed the predator into their house."
He has a theory on why predators are so comfortable and so completely incriminate themselves on-line. "They would never have these kinds of conversations with anybody on the street but somehow they just seem a little bit more comfortable and they reach out further than their filters would normally let them."