WASHINGTON — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today announced the graduation of 13 American veterans from a special program designed to allow wounded, ill or injured warriors the chance to continue serving their country on a new battlefield – the fight against child predators.
ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale today joined U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), Chief of Transition Initiatives, Lieutenant Colonel Kimberly Moros and National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT) Executive Director Grier Weeks at a swearing in ceremony for 13 veterans – many of whom were wounded in the line of duty – as part of the second graduating class of Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Corps, or HERO Corps.
The 13 “HEROs” are participating in a one-year program, first announced last year, 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.
“Bringing child predators to justice is one of ICE’s highest priorities, and it takes a special kind of person to be able to do that job,” said ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale. “There are few people better able to stand and guard the most vulnerable among us than America’s veterans. ICE is proud to be able to offer these exceptional individuals the opportunity to continue to serve their country in a fight that needs experienced and capable warriors.”
“After the success of our first class, demand for HEROs is exploding among state and local law enforcement,” said Grier Weeks of PROTECT. “These agencies recognize the unique value of counter-child-exploitation operatives who are highly trained by both the U.S. military and ICE. With Congress’ help, we’ll expand the program in 2015.”
"The HERO Corps partnership between government and non-government entities provides a unique opportunity to assist our wounded, ill or injured veterans in transition into a career field that allows them to continue to serve and protect one of our nation’s greatest assets – our children,” said Lt. Col. Kimberly Moros.
After completion of the training, HERO Corps participants will be based at HSI offices in Tampa, Florida, Kansas City, New York City, Atlanta, Fairfax and Norfolk, Virginia, Knoxville and Memphis, Tennessee, Long Beach, California, Charlotte, North Carolina, Dallas and Reno, Nevada. 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 eight weeks of training in computer forensic analysis and digital evidence collection at HSI’s Cyber Crimes Center in Fairfax, Virginia in order to help identify and rescue child victims of sexual abuse and online sexual exploitation.
Prior to that, they attended three weeks of intensive training at the Weiss Child Rescue and Protection Technology Center in Houston, Texas, where they learned about specialized software, hardware and investigative protocols that help law enforcement detect and interdict child sexual exploitation and abuse.
In fiscal year 2014, more than 2,300 child predators were arrested by HSI on criminal charges related to the online sexual exploitation of children. Since 2003, HSI has initiated more than 30,000 cases and arrested more than 10,000 individuals for these types of crimes.
The next recruitment period for the program is expected to begin early next year. Anyone interested in learning more about the program or applying, should visit ICE.gov for more information. 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.