It was called “Operation Broken Heart.” Its targets were child sex traffickers, pimps, porn peddlers and sex tourists operating mostly through the Internet. And on Thursday, local, state and federal law enforcement in California announced the results: some 275 arrests.
- A teacher’s assistant accused of going to a meeting to have sex with two children.
- A retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy, charged with distributing child porn online.
- A 64-year-old computer programmer, accused of going to a park to meet a 15-year-old for sex.
- A U.S. Army soldier on leave who responded to undercover cops posing as young girls and was arrested after showing up for sex.
- A former substitute teacher who allegedly posted a personal ad seeking sex with a father and son, and was arrested after going to meet with who he thought was an 8-year-old boy.
“The dirty old man stereotype no longer applies,” ICE Homeland Security Special Agent Claude Arnold said at a news conference on Thursday. “The perpetrators in these cases come from all walks of life and virtually every strata of the socioeconomic spectrum. They’re community leaders, white-collar professionals and even law enforcement personnel. The common denominator in most of these cases is the Internet. It has become the preferred playground for child sex predators.”
Investigators with the Los Angeles Regional Internet Crimes Against Children task force posed as young teens online and then arrested those who showed up to engage in sex acts, Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said. Also, parole officers arrested 186 sex offenders accused of violating their parole by possessing child porn or approaching children in public, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Law enforcement officials conducted the operations in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. However, the number of arrests is expected to increase as police continue to analyze and gather additional evidence, according to news reports.
Officials told the L.A. Times that one in 25 children between the ages of 10 and 17 nationwide have received online solicitations from strangers to meet in person.
“We can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” Arnold said. “Parents and children need to have frank conversations about how to stay safe in cyberspace.”