The West Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force participated in a multi-state child exploitation operation on March 15 and 16.
Headed by the West Virginia State Police, Operation Southern Impact II focused on people who sexually exploit children using the internet.
The plan for Operation Southern Impact II began four months ago, and involved ten agencies from eight states.
On March 15 and 16, ten ICAC task forces executed search warrants, did undercover operations, and made arrests in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
In all, 222 law enforcement and prosecuting agencies participated.
In West Virginia, law enforcement agents from the State Police, the Charleston FBI Field Office, Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department, Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department, Bridgeport Police Department, and the Parkersburg Police Department executed 27 search warrants, conducted ten “knock and talk” consent searches, conducted 26 suspect interviews, and conducted six interviews with children.
Over the course of the two days, officers seized 24 computers and previewed seven others. They also seized 48 cell phones and previewed 15 others. Additionally, 49 other forms of digital storage including USB drives, DVD’s, Cd’s, and tablets were seized.
Three arrests have been made, and police say more are pending.
Two of the searches and investigations involved volunteer firefighters from different communities.
On the joint state level, a total of 76 people were arrested. Law enforcement was able to identify 13 children who were victims.
Those arrested range in age from 17 to 73 and included a postal worker, non-profit employee, small business owner, store clerk, mechanic, daycare administrator, pastor, construction worker and a magician.
Nationally, 136 search warrants were executed and 100 knock and talks were conducted. During those, officers previewed 736 digital devices, and seized 1,255 of them.
Across the nation, 61 ICAC Task Forces work daily to conduct similar searches and interviews. The cooperation between the eight state agencies involved in Operation Southern Impact II shows the level of commitment to detect, arrest, and prosecute child predators.
The national ICAC Task Force Program was developed by the U.S. Department of Justice, and includes over 4,000 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, criminal justice agencies, and prosecutor’s offices.
It was developed in response to the increasing number of children and teens using the internet, and heightened online activity by predators searching for victims.