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Task force pools agencies' efforts

Group focuses on child exploitation, cyber crimes

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The arrest of a local swimming official in May was the first victory for a new child exploitation task force.

Sheriff's offices in Richmond and Columbia counties, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Federal Bureau of Investigation officially teamed in May to create the CSRA Cyber Crimes Child Exploitation Task Force.

The arrest of Ernest Harvey Shepherd, 58, of Evans, was the task force's first successful case. Shepherd was indicted by a federal grand jury last week on the charge of attempted online enticement of a minor.

According to the indictment, Shepherd used "a facility of interstate and foreign commerce to knowingly attempt to persuade, induce, entice and coerce a person he believed to be a 14-year-old girl to engage in sexual activity."

"We draw borders but the bad guys don't -- especially when it comes to the Internet," said Jim Harrison, the supervisor senior resident agent at the FBI. "It's a multijurisdictional approach."

The main goal of the newly formed force is to combat crimes against children and other cyber crimes.

The Department of Justice and FBI fund the training and equip the agencies with supplies.

"It allows the four agencies to work together more routinely," Harrison said.

"As opposed to an additional duty or one person in one department working it, the four of them get together and work these matters so they get to know one another."

The collaboration did not result, however, from an increase in the prevalence of sex crimes.

"It was just an opportunity," Harrison said.

Law enforcement departments in Richmond and Columbia counties were chosen because of their long-standing relationships with the federal agency and their available resources. However, Harrison said the FBI is open to involving other agencies as well.

Harrison would not comment on the task force's effect on the investigation and subsequent arrest of Shepherd because it's an open case.

Investigator Mark Dobbins, who has worked with Richmond County's Crimes Against Children unit for about two years, said the task force will allow investigators to be more proactive, instead of reactive.

"For years and years law enforcement has always wanted to pool their efforts," he said. "Now with the task force, we're able to meet and bounce ideas off each other."

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