A joint law enforcement operation this past week helped shine a spotlight on the importance of teaching online safety to children.
Dubbed “Operation Home Alone,” the four-day effort netted 35 arrests of individuals who chat with minors online for the purpose of meeting and engaging in sexual activity.
“If these predators are going after our children, we’re going to make sure we go after these predators,” said Clearwater Police Chief Anthony Holloway. Clearwater Police and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office joined with multiple other agencies in conducting the operation.
From last Thursday to early Monday morning, investigators posed as minors while chatting online on various websites and chat rooms.
A Sheriff’s Office police report states that the investigators worked to build a rapport with the subjects and arrange to meet. Four locations in North Pinellas were established as meeting places. Arrests were made when suspects arrived on site.
The 35 individuals arrested range in age from 19 to 65 and are primarily from theSuncoast, though one 35-year-old man traveled from Miami to meet with what he thought was a 15-year-old girl. A 63-year-old Tarpon Springs man is charged with arriving to have sex with a mother and her two daughters, ages 11 and 14.
“We are not going to stop until we purge Pinellas County of these predators,” said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, citing this as the county’s top current public safety issue.
All participating agency’s are part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.