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Parents, Police Join Forces To Fight Internet Crime

When a 17-year-old Arlington teen met a 13-year-old Springfield youth in an Internet chat room, arranged to meet at Springfield Mall, and went back to Arlington, Detective Wayne Promisel of the Fairfax County Police Department's Child Services Unit got involved.

After an investigation, Promisel found seven or eight child pornographic pictures on the 17-year-old's computer and followed up on each one to see if they were of area children.

"The computer was taken, child pornography was found," said Promisel, who is Fairfax County's only officer investigating Internet crime. "In this case, the child set up the computer for the parents. What was the parents’ response? 'I had no idea.'"

On May 12, Promisel attended a citizens meeting at Burke Centre Commons clubhouse, addressing child sex crimes and sexual predators. Others at the meeting included Diane Beatty, president of ChildSafeNet, based in Fairfax Station, and Marcia Sheehy, principal officer of U.S. Homeland Investigations Inc., a private pre-employment and background-screening company based in Old Town, Alexandria.

CHILDSAFENET is working with the Fairfax County Police Department to develop a program called "Protecting Children against Sex Offenders (P'CASO)." The goal of P'CASO is to help the Fairfax County Police Department create a new department called "Sexual Predator Enforcement and Apprehension Detail (SPEAD)." In addition, ChildSafeNet would like to see eight new detectives added to the police force, to investigate online victimization of children.

"The Fairfax County Police Department has only one detective assigned to investigate computer-facilitated crimes against children," stated a ChildSafeNet pamphlet. Promisel is that detective.

According to Maj. Steve Sellers of Fairfax County Police's Criminal Investigation Bureau, three SPEAD detectives will be joining the effort in the near future.

"We'll be able to add three positions over the summer," Sellers said.

Even though the funding is a problem, Sellers looked at the potential advantage in meeting all the goals set by ChildSafeNet.

"It's a pretty ambitious goal," he said. "Certainly any additional resources to address these issues are welcome." When ChildSafeNet's efforts were brought to the attention of the Board of Supervisors, the Board could not provide any funding. The organization was supposed to provide a certain amount of funding, but it fell short, said Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield).

"I tried to get it funded, but they didn't meet their goal," McConnell said. "I'm hoping the county will be able to help them out [in the future]."

ALTHOUGH ChildSafeNet is based in Fairfax Station, it is a national program. Diane Beatty of Fairfax Station is the president of the fledgling organization. Beatty has received a $594,000 grant from the federal government and is forwarding $450,000 of that money to the Fairfax County Police Department.

"We're on track," Beatty said. "Money's definitely the issue."

Beatty has chosen an executive director but has not released the name yet. The group has also achieved a certain nonprofit, federal funding status.

"We've been accepted into the combined federal campaign of the National Capital Area," Beatty said. That funding source starts in the fall of 2004.

"We're a nonprofit that will partner with the police on a national scale. We don't solve this problem by solving Fairfax County's problems," Beatty said.

SHEEHY'S COMPANY, U.S. Homeland Investigations Inc., checks the background of people for employment screening. With the summer coming and children going to summer camps, as well as lawn maintenance and gardening workers around the neighborhoods, Sheehy addressed the need for background checks.

"One of our main goals is to let people know that you have a right to screen people. I check out anyone that comes into my home," Sheehy said.

At the meeting, handouts included Virginia State Police statistics and a map reflecting the location of 254 violent sex offenders and 77 non-sex offenders as of November 2003, supplied by the Fairfax County Probation and Parole. A list of 10 sex offenders who live in the Burke area was included, as well. This list was obtained from the sex-offender Web site.

The ChildSafeNet handout stated that four out of five households in Fairfax County have computers with Internet access. In also stated that 120 convicted sex offenders live in the county, 1,900 incarcerated sex offenders are going to be released over the next five to 10 years, and 9,000 sex offenders live throughout the state of Virginia.