The Barry County Sheriff's Department is among the law enforcement agencies that have joined together to form the new Southwest Missouri Cyber Crime Task Force (SMCCTF).
The purpose of the task force is to provide a regional approach to investigating, apprehending and prosecuting sexual predators who target children.
"There is a lot of Internet crime involving children," said Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly. "This task force will give special attention to this problem. There's a lot of work to be done and a lot of cases to be made."
Other members of the SMCCTF, in addition to Sheriff Epperly, include Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts, Jasper County Sheriff Archie Dunn, Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland, McDonald County Sheriff Rob Evenson and Cassville Police Chief Lonnie McCullough. These law enforcement leaders and their officers will model their efforts after the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) program.
According to the program's website, the ICAC Task Force Program was created "to help state and local law enforcement agencies enhance their investigative response to offenders who use the Internet, on-line communication systems or other computer technology to sexually exploit children."
The ICAC program is now a national network of 59 local task forces and 1,800 local and regional affiliated agencies, which is funded by the United States Office Of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
"Nothing is more important than the safety of our children. Protecting our children from evil that is lurking in the shadows, by way of computers and the Internet," stated SMCCTF officials in a press release issued last week.
"Today, Southwest Missouri Law Enforcement takes a big step in joining together forming a Task Force to protect our children, by going after those who want to prey on our children's innocence," the statement read. "We believe the combined success of this task force for the future is going to send a message to those who believe they can prey on our children: don't mess with our kids."
The task force is seeking a grant that would allow the various departments to assign officers to work cyber crime cases excusively.