By City News Service
Editor’s note: The content in this story may be triggering to some readers as it references sexual abuse of children.
Authorities announced that 139 people were arrested during a five-county, multi-agency operation that targeted internet crimes against children on July 26.
“Operation Online Guardian” was conducted earlier this month by the Los Angeles Regional Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which includes personnel from 102 agencies in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
“Child exploitation is one of the most horrendous crimes affecting our most vulnerable members of the community,” Joseph McNally, first assistant U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said at a Wednesday morning news conference at LAPD headquarters. “Through these crimes, predators target those who can’t protect themselves.”
Chief Michel Moore of the LAPD, which led the operation, was also among the numerous law-enforcement officials at the news conference.
In addition, the operation included police from Burbank, Glendale, Long Beach, Laguna Beach, Redondo Beach, Montclair and San Bernardino, along with sheriff’s representatives from Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties, and officials with Homeland Security Investigations.
“The LAPD ICAC unit, as the lead agency, is the primary clearing house for all CyberTips, associated to the five Southern California counties, received from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,” the LAPD said. “The CyberTips include reports from various Internet Service Providers and citizens reporting incidents that involve the possession, distribution and manufacturing of child sexual abuse material, and the online sexual exploitation of children.”
Authorities conducted Operation Online Guardian between July 10 and 21, the LAPD reported.
“The goal of operation was to identify and arrest predators who are using the internet to facilitate the sexual abuse of children and to rescue children from [the] predators,” the LAPD said.
The police said the operation was executed in two phases.
“The first phase included proactive undercover investigations on a variety of social media platforms,” police said. “The second phase included the service of multiple residential search warrants throughout the five counties, in addition to arrest warrants, which focused on child predators.”
The 139 suspects were arrested on suspicion of various crimes that included:
• sodomy of a child under 10 years of age;
• continuous sexual abuse of a child;
• lewd acts with a child;
• meeting a minor for lewd purposes/sex;
• contact/attempt contact with minor for sex;
• sending obscene matter to a child for sex;
• penetration with a foreign object by force or fear;
• possession of child sexual abuse material;
• distribution of child sexual abuse material;
• child annoying;
• failure to register as a convicted sex offender;
• violation of conditions of parole; and
• violation of conditions of probation.
“During the operation, our dedicated investigators demonstrated their unwavering commitment and compassion as they embarked on a critical mission to protect the innocent,” the LAPD said. “Through their diligent efforts, vulnerable children were rescued from further abuse, and victims who had been silenced by the atrocious crimes of child sexual abuse found their voices restored.”
The Internet Crimes Against Children Program was developed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The mission of the ICAC Task Force program is to assist local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies with investigating Internet related crimes against youth.
The ICAC Task Force Program consists of 61 coordinated task forces and more than 5,400 federal, state and local law enforcement members.
“Although Operation Online Guardian has concluded, the LA ICAC Task Force will remain vigilant and continue their mission to protect our children,” the LAPD said. “Despite the numerous resources that assist the LA ICAC Task Force in the battle against the sexual exploitation of children, there are victims who are unnoticed. Therefore, we are asking the community for their help in this fight.”
Community members are urged to visit Missingkids.org/NetSmartz for educational internet safety tips and activities.
The community may also report potential child sexual abuse activity and have the harmful matter removed via the service “Take it Down,” hosted on the website takeitdown.ncmec.org.
“By reporting the potential child sexual abuse activity, you are giving a potential victim a voice when they are often silenced due to circumstance,” the LAPD said. “If you see something, say something.”
First published in the July 29 print issue of the Burbank Leader.