Several Floyd County police investigators are part of the state's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force — operated by the GBI — which continues to probe into possible cases of child pornography and cyber enticement of children for sex.
Two weeks ago, the GBI issued a news release detailing a multistate investigation into child exploitation which netted 76 arrests across eight states in the Southeast by nine ICAC Task Forces. The news release named four individuals from Floyd County who were arrested, along with two from Polk County. However, based on previous reporting from the Rome News-Tribune over the past four months, there have been at least 11 men all together arrested in Floyd County after being accused of communicating online with people they believed to be minors to make arrangements for sex.
"Some of these guys are the worst of the worst," Floyd County police Maj. Jeff Jones said of Operation Southern Impact II. "These cases are so important. It's always a good idea to do something proactive."
Jones said he could not go into any detail on how they investigate these crimes, not wanting to give any clue as to the techniques and strategies employed.
However, in addition to the local ICAC Task Force investigators, he said other Floyd County investigators assist when an arrest is about to be made. Also, an ICAC Task Force member from Polk County police along with members of the Rome-Floyd Metro Task Force and a GBI agent aided in conducting the operation locally.
The cooperation between agencies — there are over 230 local, state and federal agencies making up the Georgia ICAC Task Force — is a vital piece to making these types of investigations successful, Jones said, where local agencies may not only work those from Georgia but from other states as well.
"Cooperation is always important in law enforcement, but it is never more important than when we set out to protect children," the GBI news release stated. "Operation Southern Impact II has given us an opportunity to share our experience, information and resources across units, agencies and state lines, to make sure that there is no safe place to hide for criminals who would victimize the most vulnerable among us."
The local investigators undertake weeks of training to prepare them for these type of operations, Jones said, and there is additional training each year they have to complete.
"The mission of the ICAC Task Force, created by the U.S. Department of Justice and managed and operated by the GBI in Georgia, is to assist state and local law enforcement agencies in developing an effective response to cyber enticement and child pornography cases," the news release stated. "This support encompasses forensic and investigative components, training and technical assistance, victim services, prevention and community education."
Though Jones said he could not speak to there being any increased activity in online child exploitation locally, the Georgia ICAC Task Force has increasingly made more arrests for these crimes over the last several years. The Georgia ICAC Task Force made 244 arrests in 2015, 340 in 2016 and 350 in 2017 for crimes related to online child exploitation, according to the news release.
"The ICAC Program was developed in response to the increasing number of children and teenagers using the internet, the proliferation of child pornography, and the heightened online activity by predators searching for unsupervised contact with underage victims," the news release stated. "By helping state and local law enforcement agencies develop effective and sustainable responses to online child victimization and child pornography, the ICAC program delivers national resources at the local level."