Over the past several months, members of the Rhode Island State Police Computer Crimes Unit/Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (RI ICAC), in conjunction with the United States Attorney's Office and the Rhode Island Attorney General's Office, initiated an undercover online investigation dubbed "Operation Safe Child," which identified 20 Rhode Island residences actively involved in obtaining and sharing images of child pornography on the Internet. Investigators successfully obtained direct downloads of child pornography from the suspects' residences.
As a result of these downloads, search warrants were obtained for the residences. This morning, more than 70 federal, state and local law enforcement personnel consisting of Rhode Island State Police, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), United States Marshals Service (USMS), RI ICAC Task Force affiliates, Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS), Probation and Parole, child protective services personnel from the Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF) and the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) executed 20 search warrants throughout the state. Upon execution of the search warrants, detectives discovered thousands of images of child pornography and videos.
The Rhode Island State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is a Department of Justice grant-funded program administered by the Rhode Island State Police Computer Crimes Unit, comprised of five State Police Detectives, a Detective from the Providence Police Department, West Warwick Police Department, Coventry Police Department and an agent from ICE. The objective of the RI ICAC is to form strong working relationships between local, state and federal law enforcement in order to effectively and efficiently prevent, detect, investigate, and prosecute online child exploitation and child pornography crimes.
Under the direction of Colonel Brendan P. Doherty, the Rhode Island State Police Computer Crimes Unit/ICAC Task Force has taken a proactive investigative approach to capture the worst of the worst Cyber criminals and stop sexual predators from exploiting children online. Colonel Doherty, noting the success of the Task Force said, "This concerted effort between state, federal and local law enforcement demonstrates a powerful tool to combat this nefarious activity."
Bruce Foucart, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Boston said, "Predators stalk and attack the most vulnerable in our society, our children. Left on the streets, predators could, and do, victimize their communities time and time again. Since 2007, ICE Homeland Security Investigations has been proud to partner with the Rhode Island ICAC Task Force and will continue to track down and prosecute these predators with all of its available resources."
"Confronting the global problem of the trafficking of child pornography on the Internet can only begin with aggressive steps taken locally and cooperatively," said Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch. "The software program used by the State Police in the investigation that led to today's arrests, Operation Fairplay, searched peer-to-peer networks and identified users on the networks who had the highest volume of exchanging pornographic images. I am proud to have played a role in bringing this technology to Rhode Island and even prouder to stand today with our many federal, state and local partners to announce the dismantling of a small corner of the international child pornography marketplace. Our office will prosecute the resulting state cases to the fullest extent of the law."
U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha added, "There is no more important objective in law enforcement than the protection of this nation's children. Unfortunately, there are those who continue to exploit and abuse our children, and make no mistake, the manufacture, distribution and possession of child pornography does exactly this. The Department of Justice and this Office are committed to combating these crimes, and today's round-up is witness to the commitment of all law enforcement across Rhode Island, federal, state and local, to work together to that end."
Child pornography has exploded as Internet use has become commonplace. Experts say the images increasingly seem to feature younger children - infants and toddlers - being molested for the cameras in more violent and egregious ways. Most are abused and photographed by a parent, relative or someone else in a position of trust (according to National Studies NCMEC).
The increased attention to fighting child pornography already has led to record numbers of arrests since 2009. Over the past year and a half, Rhode Island State Police/ICAC Task Force arrests have increased over 500 percent. More than 8,600 people have been prosecuted at the federal level since October 2006. Documented complaints of online enticement of children more than tripled from 2004 to 2008 and complaints of child prostitution continue to rise at alarming rates.
This investigation was also part of Operation Predator, a nationwide ICE initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders, and child sex traffickers. Since Operation Predator was launched in July 2003, ICE agents have arrested more than 12,800 individuals.
ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.