In six months the unit responsible for investigating child exploitation cases in the province has surpassed the number it investigated in 2013, police officers told a news conference Thursday.
“Last year we had 49 active investigations. So far this year we have 50 active investigations,” said Staff Sgt. Joe Gullage of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU) Newfoundland and Labrador.
“So we are seeing an increase, and it’s a national concern. It’s something every province is concerned about. Something the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, by putting resources into CFSEU, has said we’re going to tackle,” he said.
Gullage and Supt. William Malone, the officer in charge of the unit in this province, were on hand for the news conference to talk about the latest countrywide investigation into child exploitation activity called Operation Snapshot III.
Malone said the it got underway in February, involved 40 police agencies and was co-ordinated by the RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre in Ottawa.
“We targeted high-risk child sex offenders who collect, possess, share, make available, distribute and produce child exploitation material online,” he said.
“We define high-risk offenders using several factors. Such as individuals who have access to children, occupy positions of trust, the severity of the nature of the abuse depicted in the material they possess and distribute, and those attempting to communicate with children for a sexual purpose,” said Malone.
Operation Snapshot III involved 167 investigations which resulted in the seizure of hundreds of computers and two million images and videos.
Five children were rescued and 150 people were arrested or under investigation.
Malone said in Newfoundland and Labrador, 11 people were investigated and search warrants were executed in St. John’s, Fortune, Baie Verte, Comfort Cove, Goulds, Placentia, Botwood, Bonavista and Glovertown.
Three men have been charged. James Isaacs, 52, of Fortune, Dane Miller, 49, of Baie Verte and Bradley Park, 21, of Comfort Cove are charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography available. They have made court appearances and are scheduled back in court at different times.
Gullage said the other eight investigations in this province are continuing and charges are anticipated.
“The investigations are continuing and charges will be laid in these matters as digital evidence is retrieved through forensic examinations of the electronic devices seized,” added Malone.
“Each of these online images and videos contain real victims, real children. Each of these images is considered a crime scene,” he said.
Operation III follows on the heels of two previous investigations. The first, in 2012, targeted the Prairies and Northern Canada, and a second, in 2013, focused on Atlantic Canada.
“The two operations combined were responsible for the rescue of five children and 54 individuals and the seizure of millions of child exploitation images and videos and resulted in significant leads in other cases,” said Malone.
The officers said the operations demonstrate the value of policing partnership and the important investigative work being done by forces across the county to ensure a safer Internet for children.
“The law enforcement community believes that for each offender arrested and prosecuted dozens of other potential victims are removed from harm,” said Malone.
Gullage said the people who are committing these crimes are ordinary citizens living in communities and people need to be aware of what their children are doing on the Internet.
“We need to educate the public on the safety of the Internet. Talk to your children. If you are a parent and you are part of school councils, or service groups, give us a call. We have personnel who will come to your group and talk to you about the safety of the Internet,” he said.
Malone said the ages of offenders and where they live don’t reveal any type of profile.
“It crosses all economic strata, all economic lines. An offender can be of any age. There are no hard and fast rules of the types of individuals. They are business people, in jobs you never know until you get on their computers,” he said.
“These individuals think they can do this kind of thing unabated, but they will get caught. It’s only a matter of time,” said Malone.