I'll admit it was difficult falling to sleep after my last class at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Citizens Academy.
The subject matter was disturbing and gruesome: "Crimes Against Children" and "Crimes Against Persons."
Something our instructor Kurt Romanosky said stuck in my mind.
He described his job as the most rewarding work in the entire Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
I was having a hard time digesting his comment after spending three hours listening to some really horrific and shocking real-life cases of predators and homicides right here in Pinellas County.
He said predators are increasingly using the Internet to lure children and teens, who are practically glued to their computers and mobile devices 24/7. The predators are in chat rooms, Facebook, MySpace, and gaming groups, where they can't be seen, and they're preying on kids right under parents' noses. Parents are even trading their kids to predators for cash. I couldn't even begin to wrap my head around some of the trends Romanosky was explaining.
Dealing with those types of cases day in and day out, I wondered, how could it possibly be rewarding?
The next day I talked to a good friend from my college days, a policewoman in a small coastal town in Washington State.
I told her about my latest soiree into the world of criminal defense and briefed her on our latest lesson.
That's when she shared with me her experience on a recent child abuse case. She was a part of the team that removed an emaciated 10-year-old girl from a foster home after a shop owner tipped police off to suspected abuse.
"The girl was 51 pounds!" my friend said. I could hear disgust, sadness and frustration in her voice.
She had endured years of starvation, whippings, lashings and burning, and somehow managed to survive.
My friend continued to describe the trial, at which the little girl testified against her abuser. She had gained weight and looked much healthier and happier, my friend said.
And the little girl recognized my friend in her uniform, lit up, pointed at her and shouted, "It's the police!" with a huge grin on her face.
My friend said that her heart melted into a puddle right there at the courthouse. She said that moment stands as the most gratifying of her career.
That's when I understood Romanosky's comment.
I slept much more peacefully that night. God bless those law enforcement units for the work they do.
Here are some tips from Pinellas County Sheriff's Office for safeguarding your kids against Internet predators:
- Put the computer in common area where you can look over your children's shoulder every now and again. If you see them closing out browsers quickly as you approach, start questioning their activity.
- Limit their time on the computer or mobile devices (especially after school when you aren't home and at night, when predators are typically trolling the Internet.
- Know their passwords — all of them — and log onto their accounts every now and again to see what's happening. No password? OK, no device.
- Pay attention to the programs and apps that are installed on the computer or device. Is there a web cam?
- Disallow any personal information to be used for social media accounts: including school name, address, age, teams, etc. Predators can use this information in many ways.
- Install monitoring software on your children's devices. Find a "geek" if you need one. Monitoring software can run discretely in the background without your child knowing.
On the Docket: Katie visits the gun range with PCSO. Oh my!