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West Va. Police Join Fight Against Online Predators

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The city's police department has joined two others in West Virginia to crack down on people using the Internet to prey on children.

Police departments in Beckley, Huntington and Hurricane are participating in Operation Blue Ridge Thunder, a Virginia-based task force consisting of more than 130 police agencies across the country training to fight Internet crimes.

Blue Ridge Thunder is coordinated by the Bedford County Sheriff's Department in Virginia and distributes more than $1.6 million to its partners for educational purposes and equipment purchased. The money is granted by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Huntington Police Detective Kendra Beckett says authorities are investigating cases involving child pornography possession, but the department has not yet been involved in tracking child predators.

"It is happening here," she said. "We might not see it, but it is happening here."

Delegate Greg Howard, R-Cabell, plans to introduce a law to toughen the state's stance.

Howard's legislation would make it a crime in West Virginia to arrange a meeting with a child with the intent to have sex. It also would prohibit using the Internet to promote the use of a minor in sexual activity and would criminalize the intent to commit the crime. Presently, those cases are handled in federal court.

"It is important for law enforcement to recognize the changing nature for criminal activity in today's world," Howard said. "There are sick and deviant people who use the Internet to solicit children to meet them in our community to engage in sexual acts and other criminal activity."

One in five children between the ages of 10 and 17 are solicited sexually on the Internet, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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