FRESNO, California. (KSEE) – Five Central Valley law enforcement officers received top honors for their work taking down child sexual predators.
Members of the Central Valley Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force were awarded the United States Attorney General’s Special Commendation on National Missing Children’s Day.
“The detectives that are assigned to this task force work tirelessly. They are highly motivated, they are highly trained, they’re highly skilled and that drive is a drive you won’t see in any other unit,” Sgt. Chad Stokes said Tuesday.
Stokes is among the officers being recognized for last summer’s Operation COVID Chatdown. The sting operation involved dozens of undercover investigators posing as 12 and 13-year-old boys and girls then making plans to meet with adults for sex.
“There were 190 online contacts who continued to chat even after they knew they were talking to a minor. So these folks know exactly what they’re doing,” special agent for Homeland Security Investigations Tatum King said back in August.
The operation initially netted 34 arrests and follow-up investigations later brought that number to more than 60.
Since the sting, ICAC has continued to make headlines. One week ago, they brought in 55-year-old Michael Martin after allegedly finding more than 1,000 child pornography videos in his home.
A few months earlier, the team secured an arrest of admitted white supremacist and pedophilia advocate 40-year-old Nathan Larson for allegations of kidnapping a 12-year-old Fresno girl.
Stokes said he’s proud of these major arrests and the team behind them.
“I think that you’re going to see more people want to be involved in the unit. ICAC is one of those things maybe not everyone knew about. Now we’re seeing more and more, dozens and dozens of people wanting to be involved in ICAC not just because the prestige of the award, but because of the quality of the work that we do,” he said.
Taskforce members said things are not slowing down. In 2019, they received about 2000 cyber tips, last year they had more than 3,000, and they’re on track to top 3,000 again this year.