COLUMBIA --- South Carolina law enforcement has apprehended 100 suspected Internet child predators since soliciting minors for sexual activity became a crime in 2004, Attorney General Henry McMaster announced Wednesday.
But, he said, "this 100 is not the tip of the iceberg and is not even the beginning of the tip of the iceberg."
Said Mr. McMaster: "Children are too young to understand the threat that they face, so that means parents can't just tell them and then expect them to protect themselves. Parents have to be actively involved in seeing that these men don't get into their house."
"It really is having your front door open and allowing anybody to walk into your home at any time, during the day or night, and you not even realizing it's going on," said Charity Gencarelli, of the Spartanburg Sheriff's Department, which is part of the state's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
It was Ms. Gencarelli's team that arrested the task force's 100th predator -- Samuel Wilds Jr., 53, of West Columbia, on Monday.
Aiken County and city law enforcement were among the first to join.
Of the 100 predators, eight were arrested by the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, which said Wednesday that Internet solicitation is a nationwide issue and law enforcement needs to be proactive.
The office has three officers trained to conduct online investigations, each of whom spends about 10 to 15 hours per week on the task.
The Bluffton Police Department is the newest addition to the task force, having joined Aug. 30. Two Bluffton officers will be trained in January and will start their online investigations shortly thereafter, Police Chief David McAllister said.
Of the hundred arrested, 31 have pleaded guilty and two were found guilty by a jury, according to the attorney general's office, which also said that all the other cases are processing.
The predators have been sentenced to everything from 15 days in jail to suspended prison time to prison sentences lasting for decades.
"We don't do plea bargaining on these," Mr. McMaster said.
The Legislature passed a bill in 2004 allowing law enforcement to participate in undercover sting operations in which they pose online as children to catch would-be predators.
A few years back, there was one South Carolina Law Enforcement Division officer assigned to these investigations.
Now the task force includes 75 officers representing 37 law enforcement agencies across the state.
-- Morris News Service