Lake, Polk County sheriffs terrorizing sexual predators

Updated:

Two central Florida sheriff’s offices said they’re terrorizing predators who want to have sex with your children, and Channel 9’s Berndt Petersen found arrests in Lake and Polk counties have added up so quickly, officials now believe they’re scaring sexual predators away.

In the last two years, the Sheriff’s Office’s Cyber Crimes Unit has busted 58 people who traveled to Lake County to meet children for sex.

“If we had 20 (more computers), we would probably have thousands of arrests each year,” said Lt. John Herrell.

It all starts in chat rooms, where detectives pose as young children. Then, once a meeting place is designated, police wait for the suspects to arrive before arresting them.

 “It’s just literally unbelievable,” said Herrell. “There’s an endless supply of people out there looking to victimize children and looking for those children over the Internet."

Investigators said it usually takes detectives only a few seconds before they get messages in the chat rooms.

In one case, a man backed off when the detective stated he was 13, but investigators said in a disturbing number of cases, the predators follow through.

Since 2006, the Polk County sheriff has made more than 1,100 arrests for child pornography and traveling to the county to have sex with children.   The investigations began online.

“We want them to fear every time they go on the Internet that a detective from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is after them,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.

Judd said the criminal cases are open-and-shut with nearly every suspect getting prison time.

“The judges are tough,” he said. “For the most part, they open at three to five years and go up from there."

As a result, officials believe that those who would travel for sex with a child are now less willing to risk a meeting with one who lives in either Lake or Polk county.

“We want to create an environment where we terrorize the sexual predators and sexual offenders who would come here,” said Judd.

Of the five dozen recent child sexual exploitation arrests in Lake County, officials said all of them have either been successfully prosecuted or are still going through the courts. None have been dismissed.