Authorities arrested 141 people across Southern California — most of them suspected of possessing child sexual abuse material — as part of a weeklong operation targeting online abuse, officials said Wednesday.
The effort was led by the long-running Los Angeles Regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, which is made up of dozens of law enforcement agencies led by the LAPD. The results of the operation, which was carried out on 6-12 September, was announced at a press conference outside Los Angeles police headquarters early Wednesday.
LAPD Capt. Jeff Bratcher said many predators take advantage of the anonymity of the Internet to target victims — for example, by infiltrating online gaming sites where they might try to convince a child to send pictures of themselves in exchange for virtual credits that can be used to in-game purchases. The rise of e-sports and social media platforms in recent years has caused an increase in abuse reports, he said.
“When we first started in 2004, we started the LAPD’s ICAC because we received 458 tips that year. In 2019, the number rose to 8,500. In 2020, 2021, both years, were over 24,000. This year so far we are over 25,000, so we should end the year with over 36,000 cyber tips, he said in an interview after the news briefing. “And each of those tips was another potential child victim.”
Although parents are “so used to seeing digital devices in their children’s hands,” he said, he urged them to monitor their children’s Internet activity more closely.
“It’s not the same stranger in a van that your mother and father and my mother and father warned us about; it’s a completely different kind of threat, he said. “And they never really know who they’re talking to.”
Among those arrested, the majority were wanted on suspicion of possessing, distributing or producing child sexual abuse material, authorities said. A further 18 people were convicted of parole or probation violations, six were wanted for sexual assault of a minor, and two each for charges of statutory rape and pimping. Three people were arrested on suspicion of causing a domestic disturbance.
Investigators were pursuing new leads while also targeting people who had previously been arrested, Bratcher said.
Those include a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy and a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center pediatrician charged with possessing more than 600 sexually explicit images of children, he said.
The pediatrician, Dr. Gary Goulin, was fired from the hospital sometime after his arrest last November by the LAPD’s Juvenile Division and has been ordered not to practice medicine while the case against him is pending, according to City News Service. He has since pleaded not guilty to possession of child or youth pornography, the wire service reported.
The members of the working group also carried out compliance checks on people who had to register as sex offenders for various offences.
The outbreak of the pandemic brought an alarming rise in reports of child abuse, officials said, as stay-at-home orders meant to slow the spread of the virus led to schools closing, youth activities canceled and children spending more time online.