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Cooper Urges North Carolina Law Enforcement to Use New Law to Hunt Down Internet Predators

Measure that will help protect children online to take effect December first

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper wrote to sheriffs and chiefs of police across North Carolina last week to encourage them to take advantage of a new law to help protect children from Internet predators.

"The number of child sexual exploitation cases in North Carolina has skyrocketed in the past few years," Cooper wrote in the letter. "With this new law, we're sending a clear message to child predators who think they can hide behind their computer screens: 'law enforcement is watching you and we will stop you.'"

Beginning December 1, 2005 the Child Exploitation Prevention Act will make it a felony for an Internet predator to solicit anyone, including an undercover officer, he or she believes to be a child. Under the old law, a predator who solicits an officer posing as a minor could only be charged with a misdemeanor. The measure will also require convicted online predators to be added to the state's Sex Offender Registry and to provide DNA samples for the state's convicted offender database.

"If you haven't done so already, I would like to encourage you to use this new law by making one or more of your officers available to go online and help track down these predators," Cooper wrote to sheriffs and chiefs of police. Cooper helped push for the new law along with the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association and the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police.

Legislators unanimously approved the measure, sponsored by Senator Scott Thomas, and Gov. Mike Easley signed it into law. The State Bureau of Investigation's Computer Crimes Unit assists local law enforcement agencies in tracking down Internet predators who try to exploit children. The SBI is a part of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, a nationwide network of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors dedicated to protecting children from online dangers.

Cooper is asking legislators to expand the SBI Computer Crimes Unit that he helped create by adding four new field agents and three more computer forensic experts to recover and analyze information from computers submitted as evidence to the SBI Crime Lab. In the letter, Cooper also reminded local law enforcement agencies about Internet safety tools for parents available through his office. Cooper partnered with law enforcement and child safety experts including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to develop a video and resource guide for parents. The video and tips are also available online.