There are things that I can’t say in this column due to the sensitive nature of the information. There are also things better not said because some of what goes on in parts of Arizona, and right here in the East Valley, would disturb almost everyone. Everyone except those who prey on children for sexual gratification.
When I worked on the sex crimes unit, the East Valley was the state’s hot spot for sexual predators. More than 60 percent of the sex offenses prosecuted by the county attorney came from the sex crimes units on the east side of Maricopa County.
Beyond the typical rapes and child molestation investigations, we’d occasionally come across Polaroid photos of children engaged in sexual conduct. The crime is sexual exploitation of children, a Class 2 felony that’s punishable by more than 20 years in prison. Sometimes it was just children and other times it was a child and an adult.
There was the homemade stuff and then there was the occasional professionally produced photographs that required a photo lab to make.
To those who collected kiddie porn, the photos were prized possessions to be enjoyed, sold and even traded for new photos. Often the pedophiles who used children for sex would use the photos they’d taken to relive the unconscionable crimes they’d committed. They’d also look for new photos for an entirely new fantasy to feed their perverted behavior.
With the advent of the Internet, the paper photos have been replaced with everything that’s available online. Anyone can become a porn producer from pedophiles to crime syndicates to parents looking to make a buck. All you need is a camera, computer and a child — a sexual predator’s easiest victim. Police tell me they’ve now started finding professional quality DVDs of children performing sex acts.
The Internet can go well beyond just images. It also gives pedophiles direct access via chat rooms and e-mail to the children they crave. Given the right situation, these predators can create the opportunity to physically touch the child who has no idea where they are headed when they begin to correspond with their new-found online friend.
Arizona and the East Valley are still pedophile playgrounds and hot spots for sex offenders who seek out children, according to local law enforcement authorities.
To combat this horrific and growing crime problem, another new police partnership and public safety resource has emerged.
Thanks to the dedication and generosity of Tempe Police Reserve Officer Shaquille O’Neal and the financial support of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, a new police unit has emerged to identify, track and attack online predators who terrorize children.
Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff raised the funds needed to establish the new East Valley branch of the nationally linked Internet Crimes Against Children Unit.
After receiving funding, the New Mexico State Police, a national leader in the investigation of sex crimes against children and strong supporter of local law enforcement, sent a team of veteran investigators headed by Lt. Miguel Aguilar to Tempe last week to train local detectives in the art of tracking pedophiles who perpetrate crimes via the Internet.
The growing East Valley model for shared resources and the East Valley Fusion Center is fast becoming the model of how to do better police work even in lean financial times.
Career criminals continue to develop their skills using 21st century technologies to carry on a life of crime. Police can’t sit stagnant and continue business as usual. Our elected policy makers should look seriously at what’s happening in the East Valley before they continue to fund and support Arizona’s failed policing policies of the past.
Ryff’s use of public, private and non-police governmental funding to go after high-tech crimes against children will no doubt prove to be a very effective model — one that will no doubt contribute greatly to meet the need to fight crime and career criminals in the future.