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New State Law Helps Lawmen Find Child Predators Online

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Internet can be a dangerous place for children without supervision. A new state law allows law enforcement to crack down on online solicitation.

This week, Person County deputies arrested Wayne County paramedic John Dunn and his wife, Sandra, for allegedly attempting to meet a 14-year-old girl for sex after an online conversation. In a separate case, Guilford County investigators arrested Douglas Lucas, of 5860 Seward Dr. in Knightdale, and searched his home Tuesday after he allegedly tried to solicit a child for sex online.

In both cases, the alleged perpetrators were caught because a law enforcement officer, not a child, was on the other end of the online conversation.

“There's no reason for kids to be in chat rooms chatting with people they don't know,” said Detective Ed Neville of the Raleigh Police Department’s Cybercrimes unit.

The Child Exploitation Act that went into effect 10 months ago in North Carolina makes it a felony for someone to solicit an officer online. Neville was not involved in those recent cases, but he also impersonates a 14-year-old-girl online to catch potential predators.

“It's extremely easy," Neville said. "They're in every chat room I've ever been in. You don't have to go to romance chat rooms. We go to education chat rooms, school chat rooms."

“The Internet has made predators much more bold in their attempt to go after kids,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said.

Cooper said a state task force has already trained 36 law enforcement agencies on how to catch online predators. Currently, the State Bureau of Investigation has eight officers working on cybercrimes. Cooper says they concentrate on cases where children are at risk.

While a connection between a child and a child predator might begin anonymously online, Cooper said it could quickly escalate to sharing pictures, phone calls and eventually in-person meetings.

“We are seeing kids who are meeting people over the Internet and actually physically arranging meetings. This is where the danger comes about with predators,” he said.

“There's a lot of predators out there," Neville said. "They know how to play the game. They know how to talk children into doing things. It's not a level playing field.”

The North Carolina Department of Justice will train groups in how to keep kids safe online. They also have a video and a booklet with tips on how to monitor your children online and block inappropriate content, which are available here.