Police Try MySpace to Deter Sexual Predators
Department Hopes to Protect Children Online by Making 'Top Friends' of Them

By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 2, 2008

First they got on YouTube. Now they're on MySpace. Arlington County police will try anything these days to catch the bad guys.

Police Chief M. Douglas Scott announced yesterday that his department had just launched its own MySpace page on the popular social networking Web site.

Police are hoping that children who use MySpace will add the department to their lists of "top friends" to discourage sexual predators from contacting them.

"Think of it as a 'Beware of the Dogs' sign," said Lt. Brett Butler, head of the department's Special Victims Unit.

"If someone goes to the child's page and sees that we're a friend, that might make them think twice about contacting that child if they have illicit intentions. The grand hope is that it'll scare them from doing it at all."

One in seven youths ages 10 to 17 is solicited or approached by a sexual predator while online, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. On March 20, Arlington police arrested a man from Sweden who traveled to Arlington to meet a teenage girl he thought he had communicated with online. The girl was actually an Arlington detective.

Police spokesman John Lisle said a retired Arlington detective who works for the center had suggested setting up a MySpace page. Butler said George Washington University criminal justice students working as interns for the police department put the page together and will monitor and update it.

Lisle said that a few police departments across the country are on MySpace but that Arlington is the first Washington area jurisdiction to try it. Both the Arlington and Alexandria police departments post videos on YouTube, the popular video-sharing Web site.

"It's just another way to communicate with young people," Butler said of the MySpace page.

"Do young people actually pick up a phone and contact anyone anymore? I hear my daughter tell her friends, 'Facebook me later,' " he said, referring to Facebook, another popular social networking site. "They're Facebooking, MySpacing. So we need to be, too."

On its first day, the Arlington police MySpace page signed up 12 "friends," mostly other police departments.

Two young women in the area, a 23-year-old from the District and a 25-year-old from Arlington, had also "friended" the county police. The women did not respond to e-mails asking why they decided to "friend" the Arlington police.

"I'm assuming those are our first two buddies," Butler said. "We'd like everyone to be our friend." Butler said the police will not actively solicit friends online, however.

Butler said people can leave anonymous tips on the page or send police suspicious communications they have received.

Police also warned children and parents not to let their guard down against online sexual predators.

"We don't want to mislead any kids or their parents into thinking this will completely protect them online," Scott said. "But if they add a link to our page, hopefully, the police emblem will scare off anyone with unscrupulous motives."

The Web address for the Arlington police page ishttp://www.myspace.com/acpdmyspace.

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