FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – 19 people identified in an undercover operation to identify sexual predators were arrested for allegedly attempting to contact a minor for sex and other related crimes, according to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.

Officials say this was part of a joint undercover operation conducted by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies as part of ‘Operation H.O.O.K’: Hands Off Our Kids. Law enforcement personnel worked undercover posing as children as young as 13 years old to identify, contact, and arrest anyone attempting to target children for sex.

In these encounters, officials say suspects used sexually explicit language and sent graphic photos to undercover personnel. Once suspects requested to meet with a child, law enforcement arrived at a predetermined location and arrested them. The operation took place from November 2 – 5 and was carried out across Fresno County.

The agencies involved in Operation H.O.O.K were the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, Fresno Police Department, Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, Homeland Security Investigations, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and California Department of Justice.

“I am proud of the results of ‘Operation Hands Off Our Kids’ and thankful for all of the local, state, and federal law enforcement partners that worked diligently to identify and arrest predators in our city,” said Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama. 

“For those thinking about committing a crime against one of our children in our city, you can’t hide behind the anonymity of a computer screen in Fresno. The Fresno Police Department will continue to collaborate with other law enforcement agencies to identify, arrest, and prosecute those that target and intend to hurt our children to the fullest extent of the law.” Chief Balderrama continued.

“I would like to encourage our community members to be vigilant when it comes to visiting websites and social media outlets,” said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims. 

“Online predators often pretend to be someone else in order to lure their victims in and take advantage of them. They are master manipulators who pose a great danger to our children,” said Sherrif Mims.

“Let me be absolutely clear: Using the internet to target children for sex is a reprehensible and despicable crime,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. 

“If you go after our children, we will hold you accountable. I’m deeply grateful to our partners in Fresno and in the federal government for their efforts to help keep our kids safe. At the California Department of Justice, we will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to protect the people of our state,” continued Attorney General Bonta.