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Police can use new law to hunt down child predators, says AG Cooper

Release date: 6/21/2005

Measure that will help law enforcement protect children online earns final passage

Raleigh: North Carolina will be able to stop Internet predators from preying on children under a new law that earned final approval from the N.C. General Assembly today, Attorney General Roy Cooper said. Cooper has pushed for the change in the law to help investigators catch criminals who pursue children online.

“Child predators are on the prowl online and we want to stop them before they hurt our children,” said Cooper. “Now we’ve given law enforcement another tool they can use against these criminals who think they’re protected by the anonymity of the Internet.”

The Senate today voted unanimously to approve the Child Exploitation Prevention Act (Senate Bill 472), sponsored by Senator Scott Thomas. The measure, which had previously earned Senate approval and returned to the Senate today for concurrence, was unanimously approved by the House on June 8 and now goes to Governor Michael Easley for his signature.

Beginning December 1, 2005 the new law will make it a felony for an Internet predator to solicit anyone, including an undercover officer, he or she believes to be a child. Under the old law, a predator who solicits an officer posing as a minor could only be charged with a misdemeanor. The measure will also require convicted online predators to be added to the state’s Sex Offender Registry and to provide DNA samples for the state’s convicted offender database.

Incidents of child sexual exploitation reported in North Carolina continue to rise. In 2001, there were only 11 incidents reported. In 2004, 533 such incidents were reported according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The State Bureau of Investigation’s Computer Crimes Unit works to track Internet predators who try to exploit children. The SBI is a part of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, a nationwide network of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors dedicated to protecting children from online dangers. Just last week Cooper announced that the SBI led the North Carolina ICAC Task Force in a statewide operation to fight the spread of child pornography, serving 58 search warrants on suspects that have already resulted in more than a dozen arrests with more arrests anticipated.

Cooper is asking legislators to expand the SBI Computer Crimes Unit that he helped create by adding four new field agents and three more computer forensic experts to recover and analyze information from computers submitted as evidence to the SBI Crime Lab

“Child predators and those who fund abuse through dealing in child pornography must be stopped,” said Cooper. “We’ve made protecting children from predators and pornographers a key priority for the SBI and that focus is paying off, but with more help for law enforcement we can do even more.”

To give North Carolina parents the tools they need to protect their children online, Cooper partnered with law enforcement and child safety experts including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to develop a video and resource guide for parents. Cooper’s office has shared those tools with local PTAs. The video and tips are also available online at www.ncdoj.gov .