Authorities have arrested 141 people across Southern California — most of them on suspicion of possessing child sexual abuse material — as part of a week-long operation targeting online abuse, officials said Wednesday.
These efforts have long been spearheaded by the Los Angeles Regional Cybercrime Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, which includes dozens of law enforcement agencies led by the Los Angeles Police. The results of the operation, which took place Sept. 6-12, were announced at a news conference outside Los Angeles Police Headquarters early Wednesday.
LAPD Captain Jeff Bratcher said many scammers are taking advantage of online anonymity to target victims – for example, by infiltrating online gaming sites where they might try to convince a child to send pictures of themselves in exchange for virtual credits that can be used to make in-game purchases. . He said the rise of esports and social media platforms in recent years has caused an increase in reports of abuse.
“When we first started in 2004, we started the ICAC in the LAPD because we received 458 advice that year. In 2019 that number rose to 8,500. In 2020, 2021, both years were more than 24,000. This year so far, we’re over 25,000. So we should end the year with over 36,000 cybertips,” he said in an interview after the news briefing. “And every single one of these tips was another potential victim of children.”
Although parents are “very used to seeing digital devices in their children’s hands,” he said, he encouraged them to keep a close eye on their children’s online activity.
“It’s not the same stranger in a truck that your dad, dad, mom, and dad warned us about; it’s a whole different kind of threat.” And they don’t really know who they’re talking to.
The authorities said that most of the detainees are wanted on suspicion of possessing, distributing, or manufacturing child sexual abuse materials. An additional 18 people were booked for a parole or probation violation, six were wanted for sexual assault of a minor, and two each for statutory rape and pandering. Three people have been arrested on suspicion of causing domestic disturbances.
Bratcher said investigators followed up on new leads while also targeting people who had previously been arrested.
They include the deputy sheriff of San Bernardino County and a pediatrician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center accused of possessing more than 600 sexually explicit photographs of children, he said.
The pediatrician, Dr. Gary Gulen, was discharged from the hospital sometime after his arrest last November by the Los Angeles Police Department of Juveniles, and an order not to practice medicine was issued while the case against him was being heard, according to the city’s news service. The news service reported that he has since pleaded not guilty to possessing child or youth pornography.
Task force members also conducted compliance checks for people required to register as sex offenders for various crimes.
Officials said the outbreak has led to an alarming increase in reports of child sexual abuse, as stay-at-home orders aimed at slowing the spread of the virus have led to school closures, cancellation of youth activities and more time on the internet.