WASHINGTON — Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Rand Beers today joined U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director John Sandweg, U.S. Special Operations Command Director of the Care Coalition Kevin McDonnell and National Association to Protect Children Executive Director Grier Weeks in a swearing in ceremony for 17 veterans – many of whom were wounded in the line of duty – as part of the inaugural class of Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Child Rescue Corps, or HERO Corps.
The 17 "HEROs" are participating in a one-year pilot program, announced last month, to work with ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) offices across the country where they will assist special agents with criminal investigations involving child pornography and online sexual exploitation. The HERO Corps program was developed jointly by ICE HSI, the Department of Defense and the National Association to Protect Children.
"ICE is on the front lines of the fight against online child exploitation and there are none better to join with us than veterans of the U.S. military," said Acting ICE Director Sandweg. "We are proud to work with these veterans to stand watch over the most vulnerable among us and to bring these perpetrators to justice."
After completion of the training, HERO Corps participants will be based at HSI offices in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Fairfax (Va.), Las Vegas, Memphis (Tenn.), Miami, New Haven (Conn.), New Orleans, Orlando (Fla.), Phoenix, Savannah (Ga.), Seattle (Wash.) and Tampa (Fla.) They will work under the direct supervision of HSI special agents, conducting computer forensic exams, assisting with criminal investigations and helping to identify and rescue child victims.
The HEROs have just completed seven weeks of training in computer forensic analysis and digital evidence collection at HSI's Cyber Crimes Center in Fairfax, Va., in order to help identify and rescue child victims of sexual abuse and online sexual exploitation.
Prior to that, they attended four weeks of intensive training at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee where they learned about child exploitation cases and the federal and state criminal laws that they will be helping to enforce.
In fiscal year 2013 to date, more than 2,000 child predators have been arrested by HSI on criminal charges related to the online sexual exploitation of children. Since 2003, HSI has initiated more than 29,000 cases and arrested more than 10,000 individuals for these types of crimes.
The next recruitment for the program is expected to begin early next year. Anyone interested in learning more about the program or applying, should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. All applicants are interviewed and vetted to ensure a good fit with the HERO Corps.
The HERO program is made possible by a five-year $10 million initiative funded by the private sector that underwrites training, logistics and equipment.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.
HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.