Representatives from a number of law enforcement agencies Wednesday announced the results of “Operation Undertow” – an Internet sting targeting adults seeking to have sex with minors.
Twenty-two suspects traveled to a designated residence in Pensacola to meet the children. Instead, they were greeted, rather roughly, by law enforcement officers.
“This effort of arresting and prosecuting these individuals helps to stop future abuse,” said Pensacola Police Chief David Alexander.
Operation Undertow was conducted September 7-11. Pensacola Police and other local agencies worked with the North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
“This is spearheaded by the FBI, so it is a major issue,” Alexander said. “It’s something that I believe the public needs to know that it is very serious, and there are long-term consequences when we don’t do what we can to pull these kind of people off the street.”
Warrants were issued for the suspects, who range in age from 18-71. Most are from the Pensacola area, with some from Alabama and Mississippi.
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan praised the officers who made the arrests, saying “Undertow” was a true team effort.
“It’s the men and women on the ground who do the job,” said Morgan. “It’s nice to the head of an agency, but I don’t serve warrants; I don’t listen to wiretaps and I don’t kick in doors. But I’ve got some professional experts that do.”
Also lending praise for the arrests was Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, himself a parent.
“The most important message here today is that our children, today, in the twenty-first century, are more vulnerable than ever,” said Hayward. “We understand about social media and what that can be to our kids. More than ever today, [law enforcement] is a very, very job But on days like this, this is a win.”
Currently, the 22 suspects face charges of traveling to meet after using a computer to lure a child. State Attorney Bill Eddins says after viewing the information on each, he says the collars are “high quality.” Since the suspects were directed to the residence, some could contend that they were the victims of entrapment. But Eddins says that assertion doesn’t hold water.
“We’ve been very careful to make sure that the defendant reaches out to us,” Eddins says. “During the time I’ve been state attorney, which is almost 12 years, as far as I know we’ve prosecuted probably over 100 of these cases. And I’m not aware of any entrapment defense that’s ever been successful.”
Operation Undertow is the largest Internet sting targeting suspects wanting sex with underage kids since June 2011 – when Operation Blue Shepherd rounded up 25 suspects during a one-week period.