EL CENTRO – The Imperial County Sheriff’s office held a press conference December 4 to detail the “Operation Safe Zone” campaign that was conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Marshals, Border Patrol, District Attorney’s Office, and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (I.C.A.C) that resulted in the arrests of 50 individuals over the span of nine months.
Of the 50 arrests made, 23 individuals were non-county residents and all these individuals were attempting to lure 12-13-year-old local victims for sex, according to authorities.
In March of last year (2016), the task force conducted an operation called “Desert Guardian”, a nine-day operation that resulted in nine arrests which were the infancy stages of the type of work the Sheriff’s office now conducts.
“We wanted to hold a press conference sooner, but we were still arresting people up until last week,“ informed Lieutenant Jimmy Duran.
According to the Sheriff’s deputies, none of the individuals arrested had any background that would indicate any previous or similar law violations.
“When you hand your child that smart phone or tablet, you’re handing them the doorway to the world,” alerted Sargent Dale Flamand, San Diego Police detective and the I.C.A.C commander in San Diego. “They now have access to the good, the bad, and the ugly of the world, not just Imperial County and the United States.”
Parents are urged to be involved in their kid’s internet life and to know how certain applications work.
Organizers stressed for parents to double check their kids’ YouTube searches. Parents need to know how to operate those types of applications, the officers stressed in the meeting.
Per Sargent Flamand, a hidden application exists that looks like a calculator – but it’s not a calculator, it’s a type of safety deposit box that kids can hide stuff in they don’t want parents to see.
“As a parent, you should know every single password your child has on that phone,” Sgt. Flamand said. “We can only do so much to protect your children, so it falls back that the parents have to help us, because in the past calendar year 2016-2017, I’ve had a 200 percent uptake in cases in the three counties.”
Flamand had mentioned five counties during the press conference, Yuma, Imperial, Mexicali, San Diego, and Coachella. He did not specify which three counties had 200 percent uptakes in sexual crimes.
Until they are 18 years old, the phone belongs to the parent, not the child, the officers said.
For any assistance or questions regarding potential internet sex crime activity, contact your local Sheriff’s department.