Local police task force fights online child predators - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Local police task force fights online child predators

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RICHLAND, WA. -- We should all be reminded that our children are perhaps more vulnerable than ever before as more kids get a hold of smart phones at younger and younger ages.  

Parents need to know there are predators in our local area. But the good news is there's also a task force of local officers that's hunting them down as well. 

As a parent, you might think your children are safe from predators in the suburbs of Eastern Washington. But there's a world out there that's invisible and it allows evil to hide, unseen. 

"They're here in the Tri-Cities as well," Lt. Jeff Taylor from the Richland Police Department said. "We've had no problem finding them. So if we can find them easily, they're out there and your kids can find them.>

Lieutenant Jeff Taylor from the Richland Police Department is the Commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The task force has been around for only 8-years and they do the hard work of finding predators lurking in the unknown world of the internet. 

"There's a direct link between viewing child pornography and actually going that next step and having a hands on victim," Lt. Taylor said. "If we can get to that person before they take that next step, that's our goal."

Lieutenant Taylor says his team patrols places like Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, online gaming networks, anything you can think of.

"Any place your kids could be going, they're out there," Detective Robert Benson said. 

According to Detective Robert Benson, these men and women hiding behind a keyboard are impossible to spot on the street. 

"The reality is they're among us," Det. Benson said. "They're your neighbors, they're the people in church, they're the people you know."

Benson is one of 3 detectives from the Richland and Kennewick Police Departments who work together with a local agent from Homeland Security to stop online predators. What their investigations have uncovered in our local area, will make you cringe.

"I'm currently working a case right now that the bad guy has over 175,000 files," Benson said. "It's probably the largest collection of victims that I've worked in my 8 years that I've been here."

How can you keep your children safe? What the task force sees over and over again, are instances in which conversations start out harmless and progress into something far more sinister.

"Don't let your child have unrestricted access to the internet," Lt. Taylor said. "Whether it be a computer in their bedroom, whether it be a phone that has unlimited access."

To put it simply:

"Be very nosy," Det. Benson said. 

In the meantime, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force will continue to do it's very best to fight these criminals before they ruin a child's life. And they have a message to any predator watching. 

"I want to say to them, that if you continue in your ways we're going to catch you and you're going to go to prison," Lt. Benson said. "Plain and simple. we value our children in this society and there's no room for you to exist."

Lieutenant Taylor stressed that predators harming children are sick and need mental help. He wanted to stress the need for proper psychological help while they're behind bars, otherwise they may offend again. 

The task force is also hoping to add more officers. A full-time deputy from Benton County will be added to the task force soon and Lt. Taylor is hoping the group can continue to grow and make an impact on our community.