Crime & Courts

Nearly 1,700 suspected child sex predators arrested nationwide — 6 were in Kansas

Nearly 1,700 suspected online child sex predators were arrested during a nationwide operation, law enforcement officials said.

Six were in Kansas.

The nationwide operation called “Broken Heart” was conducted by Internet Crimes Against Children task forces and targeted suspects involved in child pornography, online child sex solicitation, child sex trafficking or crossing state or international borders to sexually abuse kids, the Department of Justice said in a news release.

“The sexual abuse of children is repugnant, and it victimizes the most innocent and vulnerable of all,” Attorney General William P. Barr said in the release. “We must bring the full force of the law against sexual predators, and with the help of our Internet Crimes Against Children program, we will.”

Four of the six people arrested in Kansas were from Wichita or Sedgwick County, said Sgt. Jeff Swanson of the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, the task force commander for Kansas. They are suspected of sex crimes ranging from indecent solicitation to manufacture and distribution of child porn.

Many of the 160 investigations started in Kansas as part of Broken Heart are still ongoing, and Swanson said he expects “multiple” arrests out of those cases. Criminal charges are expected to be filed in state and federal courts.

“I would always want more (arrests),” Swanson said. “Each and every one of them is significant, because that’s an offender who is not having contact with children now.”

Through the investigations, five children in Kansas were identified as victims of sex crimes, he said.

Swanson urged parents to be aware of what their children are doing online, what apps they are using, who they are talking to online and who their social media friends are.

“The devices we give them have access to everyone in the world, which means everyone in the world has access to our children,” he said. “... Parents, please, please, please be aware of what your kids are doing. If you’re not watching what they’re doing, somebody else will.”

A combination of Cybertip leads provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and proactive investigations using police software were used by detectives to identify cases.

Though the Justice Department did not release state-level results on the operation, Swanson said the six arrests in Kansas were typical for the state’s population and number of investigators. The 160 investigations initiated by Kansas ICAC and affiliated law enforcement agencies resulted in 33 search warrants executed, 119 subpoenas issued and 26,000 gigabytes of electronic media processed.

To put the amount of data in perspective, Swanson said, “Titanic” and other movies can be as large as 3.5 gigabytes. That same amount of digital data translates to hundreds or thousands of individual still photos and 15-30 second video files. The amount of data processed in a single case varies, but some suspects use up to 4 terabyte hard drives, which could store over 1,000 movies the size of “Titanic.”

So far this year, Kansas investigators have performed forensic examinations of 77,000 gigabytes of data after going through 94,000 all of last year. The unit doesn’t have additional detectives.

“We need more of everything,” Swanson said. “But every supervisor of every section would tell you that their people are worked very hard and they could use additional resources.”

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