Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Public safety

John Romano: Too many stories of children in danger

RECOMMENDED READING


One after another, the unsettling headlines are starting to blur together.

The child pornography case gives way to the underage sex sting, which is followed by another teacher being charged with having sexual rendezvous with a student.

Depending on your point of view, recent weeks have either been triumphant for law enforcement officials working crimes against children, or a frightening reminder of the number of predators hiding in plain sight.

"It's really kind of amazing,'' said St. Petersburg police Assistant Chief David DeKay. "Just look at the sting in Manatee County last month. They were picking off high school teachers and church leaders.

"That's what's really scary.''

The Manatee County case resulted in 35 arrests of men who thought they had arranged online dates for sex with minors. Along with the teacher and church choir member was a nursing assistant and a former Department of Defense official.

Not long before that, 14 men were arrested in another sting in Plant City.

That doesn't include the man who thought he had made an arrangement with a woman in Tampa to have sex with her 10-year-old daughter, or the St. Petersburg man charged Friday after arriving for a meeting with a detective posing online as a 14-year-old.

It's difficult to pinpoint whether there has been an upswing in the number of predators on the Internet, or if police are simply getting better at forcing violators into the open.

The number of online cases jumped dramatically a decade ago, but that was at a time when computer usage and social media was still a growing phenomenon.

"We haven't done a comprehensive look at the number of offenders since 2009, but I wouldn't say there has been a spike in activity,'' said Janis Wolak, a research scientist at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center. "The reality is most sex crimes are not perpetrated by someone a child meets on the Internet.

"What parents need to do is talk more broadly to their children about sexual advances. It doesn't matter if it's someone they don't know on the Internet or someone they do know from down the street. The red flag is any conversation that steers into sexual territory, no matter who it is.''

If parents have learned to be more attentive to Internet usage in the home, offenders also have become more wary of law enforcement officials online.

It's become a cat-and-mouse game of detectives pretending to be bored adolescents visiting popular teen websites, but without coming across as obvious targets.

"There's a certain skill set involved,'' said DeKay. "You have to be socially adept in the ways of teenagers.''

The real question is how many predators are still hiding online. If dozens are being arrested on a fairly regular basis when showing up for supposed dates with teens, how many are successfully arranging meetings every day?

One FBI study estimated a half-million pedophiles are online every day.

"As you might expect, that child predator is wary of being caught and so we have to work around those predicaments,'' said DeKay. "But their overriding urge is often so strong, they're willing to take that chance.

"It's crazy what these guys are showing up at people's houses expecting to find.''

Comments
Mountains beckon, but family sticks with beleaguered Seminole Heights for Thanksgiving this year

Mountains beckon, but family sticks with beleaguered Seminole Heights for Thanksgiving this year

TAMPA — Before the killings began, Bob and Vivian Fiallo envisioned having Thanksgiving at their North Carolina mountain getaway.Most years, the couple spends the holiday at their tidy, brick-faced home on North Olney Avenue, in the heart of Southeas...
Published: 11/22/17
Report: Pepin Academies director had alcohol in his system at time of fatal boating accident

Report: Pepin Academies director had alcohol in his system at time of fatal boating accident

CLEARWATER — The former Pepin Academies executive director who died in a watercraft and boat collision on Sept. 23 had a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the level at which the state presumes someone is impaired, a toxicology report showed. Just befo...
Published: 11/21/17
Pasco Deputies: Man climbs into bed with sleeping woman after multiple burglaries

Pasco Deputies: Man climbs into bed with sleeping woman after multiple burglaries

NEW PORT RICHEY — A man who ended a series of burglaries by breaking into the home of a sleeping woman, where he climbed into her bed, was arrested Monday afternoon, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said.Russel Smith, 42, now faces three felony char...
Published: 11/21/17

28-year-old man shot dead in Spring Hill home, deputies say

SPRING HILL — A 28-year-old man was shot and killed inside a Spring Hill home Monday night, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies responded to at least two separate 911 calls about 8:15 p.m., in which callers reported shots being...
Published: 11/21/17
Crime Stoppers, Straz Foundation still working out Seminole Heights reward money

Crime Stoppers, Straz Foundation still working out Seminole Heights reward money

TAMPA — You can collect $110,000 in reward money for information leading to an arrest in the Seminole Heights killings, but for now you’ll have to make two stops.The David A. Straz Foundation announced Monday it would contribute $10,000 to a reward f...
Published: 11/21/17

Crash involving bicyclist closes EB lanes on W Kennedy Boulevard in downtown Tampa

TAMPA — Eastbound lanes on W Kennedy Boulevard were reopened by 6:30 a.m. at S Parker Street in downtown Tampa after a bicyclist was struck early Tuesday morning.The crash occurred in front of the University of Tampa, according to broadcast reports.W...
Published: 11/21/17
In wake of killings, Seminole Heights hosts supper to thank first responders

In wake of killings, Seminole Heights hosts supper to thank first responders

TAMPAKenny Hoffa surprised everyone when he made the seven-hour drive from Charleston, S.C., to Tampa’s Seminole Heights to attend a dinner set up to thank police for working hard to solve a string of recent killings.For Hoffa, it was an easy decisio...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
Another teen fights for his life following reported stolen car crash

Another teen fights for his life following reported stolen car crash

ST. PETERSBURG — Another teenager is fighting for his life after a crash involving a car that was later reported stolen, according to police.The 15-year-old was a passenger in a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro that hit a tree in the 4000 block of 11th Avenue S...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
NTSB report details steep turns and dives preceding Roy Halladay’s fatal crash

NTSB report details steep turns and dives preceding Roy Halladay’s fatal crash

Before he crashed, Roy Halladay flew within 75 feet of houses and skimmed the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a report published Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board.The report, which did not address the cause of the crash, ...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
Blasts at plant kill 1, injure dozens

Blasts at plant kill 1, injure dozens

NEW WINDSOR, N.Y. — Authorities recovered the body of a male worker reported missing after two explosions and a fire at a New York cosmetics factory left 30 to 35 people injured, including seven firefighters caught in the second blast, officials said...
Published: 11/20/17