ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – Internet predators are striking at an alarming rate and Minnesota law enforcement fear it will get worse if parents don’t protect their children.
According to government statistics, 1 in 5 children are sexually solicited online and only 1 in 4 children tell their parents.
“When you have an Internet connection in your home, even though you have an alarm system, even though you lock down your doors and windows, it’s like having an open window 24 hours a day into your home,” said St. Paul Police Department Sergeant Bill Haider, who’s also a member of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Haider and other ICAC Task Force members are taking the lead in fighting online enticement in Minnesota. One of the cases these investigators cracked happened three years ago.
When they searched Steven Allen Braun’s home in St. Joseph, Minn., they found more than 20,000 photos and video of children. They submitted these files to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Child Victim Identification Program. Some of these photos and videos were so graphic that police identified these children as victims of child pornography.
“We look through all the images, and that’s probably the hardest part about the job,” said Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Special Agent David Giguere, who’s also an ICAC Task Force Member.
When Giguere started digging even deeper into Braun’s past, he found out even more. Braun failed a polygraph test and then confessed, police say, to inappropriately touching a teenage boy, twice. Detectives seized thumb-drives, a computer tower and memory card from his home. They needed to extract the images from them.
“And this basically allows us to connect to a hard-drive and obtain a clone of the hard-drive that we can actually work with,” said a BCA Forensic Examiner.
The examiners in the Forensics Lab give those copies to investigators and allow them to build their case.
Forensic examiners have to be careful not to destroy the evidence left on the equipment. That’s why they, quite simply, make a copy of it for investigators to review.
“Some of these cases potentially take us months to complete the process; to get evidence out,” said ICAC Task Force Commander Donny Cheung, who’s also a BCA Senior Special Agent.
“Every case that we deal with, we potentially take a victim out of harm’s way. And that’s one of our primary missions for the ICAC Task Force is to rescue children form harm’s way,” he said.
There are always new cases coming in, just like the case against Braun, who is headed to prison. But slamming the cell door on just one convicted child-predator won’t make the problem go away, say investigators.
“If I can save one kid, it’s all worth it,” said Giguere.
He knows there will be more children to save with more child predators lurking somewhere in cyberspace.