'It is happening in Enid': EPD's Internet Crimes Against Children Unit helps locate offenders – Enid News & Eagle

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Mostly clear. Low 72F. Winds SSE at 15 to 25 mph.
Updated: August 27, 2021 @ 3:47 pm
Serving Enid and Northwest Oklahoma | enidnews.com
Enid Police Department Detective Randy Wilson, of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit, sits at his desk Wednesday, August 18, 2021.

Enid Police Department Detective Randy Wilson, of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit, sits at his desk Wednesday, August 18, 2021.
ENID, Okla. — In 2014, Dustin Albright, then a lieutenant for Enid Police Department, was assigned a case concerning an internet user uploading images of child pornography.
Albright began his investigation and located a user who was in possession of child pornography files.
The IP address belonged to an Enid address during the time of the incident, and Albright tracked down Eduardo Villegas, who was charged with possession of child pornography in February 2015.
Further into the investigation, Albright discovered more disturbing information.
After Villegas ended up pleading guilty to 42 charges of first-degree rape, forcible sodomy, lewd molestation and procurement of child pornography, he received three consecutive life sentences without parole.
Villegas’ was just one of the many cases EPD’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit has investigated since it was created in 2007.
“It came in as a tip from the (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation) and (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), and then all of a sudden, opened up into real victims being saved in our own community,” said Albright, who spent seven years in EPD’s ICAC Unit and is now the executive director of the Garfield County Child Advocacy Center. “There could be real victims in our own communities that we need to find and save.”
Sgt. Aaron Barber, with the Enid Police Department Internet Crimes Against Children unit, shares some tips with parents regarding social media.
The ICAC Task Force Program was created in 1998 in response to the increasing number of children and teenagers using the internet and other technology, the proliferation of child sexual abuse images available electronically and the heightened online activity by predators seeking unsupervised contact with potential underage victims, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
The ICAC program is a national network of 61 coordinated task forces representing more than 5,400 federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies.
EPD’s ICAC Unit, which went online in 2007, is an affiliated agency of the OSBI’s ICAC Unit, said Sgt. Aaron Barber, who has been with EPD’s ICAC Unit since October 2020.
Barber said as an experienced officer, he was aware of how much would be going on in ICAC, but he said he thinks the regular person in Enid would be “blown away by the sheer number of juvenile sex offenses” EPD investigates.
“It’s going to happen in Enid — it is happening in Enid,” he said.
The ICAC Unit first went undercover into online communication, including chat rooms, instant messaging and social networking sites, but as the internet and social media have evolved, Barber said online predators use “any platform they can to communicate,” including Snapchat, Whatsapp, Discord, Facebook and even Coin Master.
“Now, we even have to deal with ‘Vanish Mode’ on Facebook,” said Barber, describing a feature in Facebook and Instagram messengers that encrypts a message conversation to make it disappear when anyone leaves the thread.
Barber said laws are starting to catch up with internet and electronic service providers, though.
“It’s really evolved now where technology is used as an advantage,” he said. “Where law enforcement was kind of behind the eight ball and catching up to stuff … now, we’re tracking it in almost real-time and getting it reported fairly quickly afterward.”
Typically, tips come into EPD from NCMEC’s CyberTipline. Barber said the ICAC Unit — him and Detectives Randy Wilson and Austin Lenamond — will look at all the information, verify the suspects’ identities and type out all of the necessary search warrants before executing search warrants and making arrests.
These steps are typically involved with investigations involving child pornography.
For child enticement investigations, though, Barber said it’s a different approach.
“We’re really just out there ‘trolling,’ so to speak — using profiles that aren’t real, portraying ourselves as younger children and just waiting for somebody to basically initiate that communication … to catch them on the proactive side,” Barber said.
The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office recently signed a contract with OSBI to help work ICAC cases in the county, Sheriff Cory Rink said.
Once deputies are trained and the funds to purchase equipment comes in, the Sheriff’s Office’s own ICAC Unit will begin.
“The Sheriff’s Office serves 13 towns — all the rural areas outside the municipality, and it’s going to help those areas because we’ve never had anybody working that stuff out in the rural areas,” Rink said. “OSBI comes in and works, but they have tons of cases. The Enid Police Department has tons of cases, so it is definitely going to benefit us here in the rural areas. That way we can try to catch these predators out there.”
The unit gets about about three to five CyberTips involving child pornography specific to Enid per month, Barber said, and about three or four more regarding online solicitation of children or some type of sexual communication with children.
Each tip may require anywhere from five to 15 search warrants, and if the suspect is still in EPD’s jurisdiction, EPD will make the arrests.
“Of the tips that are made, we probably clear 25% of them as being either material that doesn’t fall under child porn statutorily or isn’t a crime and was reported for other various reason,” Barber said, “so I’d say probably about 75% of the cases we have, we can make an arrest on.”
Tips can come from the NCMEC’s CyberTipline, EPD’s Tip 411 line, Crime Stoppers, online and regular reports to the department, Barber said.
Children who have been sexually abused or solicited in some way in a case are interviewed at the GCCAC, Albright said.
“We have trained forensic interviewers, so we get one interview,” Albright said. “That’s so there’s not several different stories in court that the defense attorney can try to say, ‘Well, you said this on this day and this on that day’ — there’s just one interview.”
If somebody is viewing, manufacturing or distributing child pornography, Barber said the percentage is “extremely high” that that person is also committing or will commit sex offenses against children — most likely children they know and have access to.
“When we have investigations where the perpetrator has access to children, I would probably put the rate at over 75%, easily,” Barber said.
Albright, who started working at the GCCAC last year, said curiosity was a common explanation he got from suspects in child pornography.
“They get curious, so they start watching it and seeing it, and what’s the next step,” he said. “It’s kind of like a gateway drug.”
Child pornography impacts the victims for the rest of their life, Barber said.
“It’s really the boogeyman-type stories that these kids are reliving,” he said. “I’ve heard people say, ‘They’re just images.’ There’s a victim behind those images, and it’s our job to try and figure out who that victim is and to prevent more kids from being victims.”
Barber said children having immediate access to communication and the internet also can be harmful.
Albright, Barber, Rink and Wilson all said the best way parents can help keep their children safe online is to be involved in their internet use.
Parental controls can be applied on children’s cellphones to monitor their children’s activity and cellphone time, Barber added.
“A lot of people call them helicopter parents, but in this day and age, you can’t be too safe,” Barber said.
Billy Dougherty and his wife, Destiny, have three children ages 14, 8 and 3. Only the 14-year-old has access to a cellphone, but it comes with restrictions.
The teenager has a cellphone she can use for whenever she is going out of town and needs to be able to reach her parents, but the cellphone doesn’t have internet access or social media apps on it.
“We definitely have a different approach to it than everybody else because we’ve seen so many kids that … were attacked by a predator, etcetera, and so for us, the the idea was always, ‘We’re not going to give (internet access) to our children until until they can go get it on their own,’” Dougherty said.
He and Destiny explained their reasoning to the teenager, who Dougherty said understands what’s going on. The family is always busy with activities, so he added that they really don’t have time to spare online anyway.
Some parents commented on a News & Eagle Facebook post with their own approaches on monitoring their children’s online activity, which included controlling the time spent on some social media apps, being in the same room whenever their children are using the internet and going through their cellphones.
Dougherty said he doesn’t believe their approach is better than any other parents’, but it’s what they think works best keep their teenager — and eventually their younger children — safe.
“You can’t get burned if you’re not around the fire,” he said.
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