POSTED: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 5:30pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 8:16pm
Baton Rouge, LA (NBC33) — Nine people are in prisons around southern Louisiana for their suspected roles in sex crimes committed against children.
The arrests came as a result of Operation Blackjack, undertaken by agents with the Louisiana Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.
The ICAC Task Force connects 171 law enforcement agencies, from the local to federal levels, "to do what I call 'God's work,'" state attorney general Buddy Caldwell said Wednesday, "and get rid of sexual predators and people that prey on our children."
Four of the suspects lived in the capitol area. Most of the nine were charged with possession of child pornography. One was charged with distribution, while another was accused of aggravated incest. They encompassed a wide cross-section of society.
"It's everybody from business owners to unemployed individuals," said David Ferris, section chief of the attorney general's High Tech Crime Unit. "I couldn't tell you exactly what causes an individual to do it. I can tell you, however, that eventually, they will get caught."
To make their case, detectives have to prove the suspect was on the computer at the time the pornography was accessed. They often try to match that with other activities that could identify someone, such as checking email or visiting an online chat room. Caldwell said that with solid forensic evidence, many suspected sexual predators confess to their crimes.
"The technology, with cameras, cell phones; that's a very important part of making the case," he stated. "And really, frankly, it's case closed when you have the appropriate forensic evidence."
Getting that evidence is a very difficult, emotional process.
"You can't imagine what those guys have to do on a day-to-day basis," said Kurt Wall, director of the attorney general's criminal division, "just sitting there day after day, having to look at some of the evil, is how I'll phrase it, just pure evil."
"We have to have the folks that look at these images counseled on a regular basis," Caldwell added, "because this is rough stuff."
The Louisiana State Police has a full-time counselor on its staff to work with officers involved in sex crime investigations.
The ICAC Task Force also hosts outreach events, trying to get parents to take a greater interest in their children's digital lives.
"It ought to concern you that the most sought-after videos and pictures on our internet are little boys and little girls being abused," said Col. Mike Edmonson of the LSP.
"We have to cure this illness in our community," agreed Fabian Blache, the Executive Director of the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police. "It's our state, it's our Louisiana, and we definitely want to fix it."
Officers served three additional warrants as part of Operation Blackjack.
Caldwell said those people have not been charged yet because investigators are taking more time to dig through their computers to connect all the evidence.
While technology allows them to solve many of the cases, Ferris admitted that detectives will always be chasing the criminals.
"I can tell you that we're only catching a small portion of them," he stated. "That there are a lot of bad guys out there, there's a lot of individuals who we haven't caught yet, who we, the guys in the back of the room are working tirelessly trying to catch. But we are behind the eight ball on this. The partnership that we have here is giving us a huge jump-start moving forward, but this is one of those things that we're always running behind the curve on individuals who are using new technology."