Officers working around the clock against online predators - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana

Officers working around the clock against online predators

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Lewis and Clark County law enforcement are working around the clock to place online predators behind bars. (MTN News photo) Lewis and Clark County law enforcement are working around the clock to place online predators behind bars. (MTN News photo)

They prey upon the young and vulnerable. They’re adults using technology to meet teens for sex.

Detective Chad Lawrence with the Helena Police Department, said, "It can be just about anybody."

The internet has a dark side, where thousands of pictures and videos of minors participating in sexual activity are shared daily.

Marvin Weber, who works with the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office, said, "All of that infrastructure can be used for child exploitation and is being used for child exploitation."

Detective Chad Lawrence is assigned to the Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Weber is also on the task force, providing a fresh technical perspective when it comes to basic forensics of confiscated items, such as cell phones and hard drives. 

Most evidence taken from a crime scene is transferred to a forensics specialist in Great Falls for a more in depth analysis.

The task force is comprised of state, local and federal agencies. 

In some cases, the task force utilizes a pro-active approach to catching online predators. 

Law enforcement posts ads on websites such Backpage and Craigslist. From there, it’s a waiting game.

Lawrence said, “We pose basically as the person either person providing it or the child themselves and instead of meeting a child they'll be meeting us."

The task force performed multiple sting operations across Montana in 2014. 

The locations were Kalispell, Missoula, Glendive, Great Falls and Butte.

Lawrence has participated in at least a few pro-active investigations over his career. 

Each investigation results anywhere from two to eight arrests, he said. 

Enticing children over the internet is the most prevalent offense Lawrence investigates.

Once the individual is caught showing intent to have sex with a minor by showing up at the pre-determined location, it's time to talk with police.

Lawrence said, " I want them to tell me their biggest darkest secrets and if you can get that then it's usually go evidence for the case."

One case Lawrence has been working on involves a 32-year-old East Helena man named Richard Sarri.

Saari is charged with the sexual abuse of children and promotion of prostitution. 

Court documents indicate Saari possessed several lewd images of a 15-year-old girl he had been chatting with for several months through text messages and Facebook. 

If convicted of all three felonies, he faces up to 300 years in prison.

For Lawrence, it's about getting into the offender’s head during the interview process to figure out why he or she in question has a sexual interest in underage children.

Lawrence said, “Some just have a predisposition to be sexually attracted to certain age types."

Weber said, “Imagine that the activity that you're going to take part in is being done in a room with a thousand people."

The so-called dark web is a closed network where pictures of underage children are available, usually for a price. 

Weber advises juveniles to think twice before sending nude photos to anyone. 

He said protecting today's youth begins with a conversation.

Weber said, “This isn't even from a parent. It can be from the schools, it can be from a church organization, it can be from a family friend, anything that can help mentor a child into behavior that is not dangerous to them, that is not risky to them online because the reality is that they will be online."

 From behind a computer, cell-phone or tablet, they're out there.

Lawrence said, “We're doing our part as law enforcement, the companies are doing our part, their community's doing their part but unfortunately the bad guys are still doing their part and you know they're still out there and we're going to do our best to try and find them."

Visit www.missingkids.com for more information on computer predators and how to further protect youth from becoming victims.

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