Stung on the Internet

By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson says getting a person arrested, charged, indicted and convicted is not an easy task for most crimes.
But when it comes to Internet sex crimes, Johnson said criminals bring themselves right to him.
Since the Sheriff’s Department started its stings in 2006, it has arrested, charged and indicted 19 people for using the Internet to entice children for sexual purposes.
That record, Johnson said, shows the program’s success.
“That’s 100 percent of the people arrested being indicted or convicted,” said Johnson. “In my line of work there aren’t many crimes that produce those types of numbers. We have made catching these people who prey on our children a priority and it shows.
“That’s why we formed the cybercrime unit and lab. We wanted to make sure we had all the tools we needed to bring these predators to justice.”
Johnson said one reason these crimes are so easy to prosecute is that the suspects give police all the evidence they need as soon as they hit the send button on their computer keyboards.
Often, children are lured into meetings with sexual predators.
“The crime is committed long before the meeting,” Johnson said. “When you send inappropriate material to a child, you have committed the crime. Driving to us is just a bonus.
“I mean it’s almost like a person going to rob a bank and calling police to tell them what bank, what time, what they’re going to be wearing and exactly what they are planning on doing. It’s that easy with these types of crimes.”
Officer Danny Giroux, member of the cybercrime unit, plays the role of the 15-year-old bait used to lure the predators. Unlike his experiences when he started the stings four years ago, he said, nothing surprises him about the Internet predators.
“I used to be shocked by what these guys would say to who they thought were these teenage girls,” said Giroux. “But the longer you do it, the less surprised you are.”
Johnson said Internet predators seem to be making themselves scarce these days. When the stings first started, Johnson said traffic was high in the chat rooms where many predators are found, but lately that hasn’t been the case.
Dr. David McElreath is chairman for the Legal Studies Department at the University of Mississippi. Even though he agrees that Internet predators provide evidence that makes them easier to prosecute, McElreath isn’t so sure if the conviction rates are slowing the offenses.
“They’re just so many of them out there that we don’t know what type of impact we’re making with the arrests,” said McElreath. “The sex predator is no longer the guy hanging at the park. Those guys are still there, but it’s gone to a new dimension. Now many of those same guys are sitting at a computer and doing the same thing.”
McElreath said sex predators used to hunt only in areas they knew, but with the emergence of the Internet, they also now have the ability to hunt nationally and globally. And that worldwide span makes it harder to gauge the impact of these stings.
Johnson said that in addition to moving suspected predators through the legal process, the stings have raised awareness among the general public.
“Before these sting operations, people had more of a ‘it’s not happening here’ attitude,” Johnson said. “But now they read about them and see them in the news and they realize that right here in Lee County this stuff is happening.
“Now we go out and talk to people about the dangers of the Internet and they listen. You can never clear it all up, but you sure can shine light on the problem and that’s what we’ve done.”
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.