ASHEBORO N.C. – At a joint press conference, the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office announced a new task force and plans for a fusion center in Randolph County, all dedicated to combating child trafficking and exploitation.
In August of this year the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office participated in ‘Operation Child Predator,’ leading to the arrest of nineteen individuals for sex crimes. “That operation opened the eyes of several people across the state” said Randolph County Sheriff Greg Seabolt at the press conference. “The operation proved that child abuse, trafficking, and exploitation are much more prevalent than most people know or are willing to admit.”
North Carolina is ranked ninth in the nation for human trafficking with sex trafficking being the most common. The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (NC SBI) estimates that they will receive more than 27,000 Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) tips in 2023. With only 250 investigators trained to take ICAC cases in the state, which comes out to 108 tips per investigator, on top of their other non-ICAC cases.
“Our children are our most precious resource and deserve our best efforts to protect them from the evils of society. In many cases, persons convicted of child sex offenses admit that they have abused other children. It is only logical to assume that these individuals will continue to abuse children until they are caught. It is therefore imperative that we take a proactive approach to catch these predators and prevent future abuse to every extent possible,” said Randolph County Sheriff Greg Seabolt.
To help combat the growing problem of child trafficking and exploitation, the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office announced a joint task force under the name ‘The Invictus Project.’
The project is comprised of the Randolph, Forsyth, Alamance, and Davidson County Sheriff’s Offices, the D. A’s office, State Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and other partners like Lantern Rescue. The combined agencies working as a task force will be housed in a new Fusion Center located in an undisclosed building located in Randolph County.
A Fusion Center acts like a shared workspace for law enforcement with the idea of bringing together and co-locating various law enforcement agencies, investigators, resources, and tools to encourage sharing of information and expertise and provide access to the latest tools and technology to solve cases more effectively. “This is a technical fight, and this fight is done on forensic side for the most part, and these digital forensic tools are expensive and so when we’re able to bring all of these tools to one location with the expertise that law enforcement personnel already have to be able to collaborate and work together, we just become a more effective fighting force,” said Ray Dawson with Lantern Rescue.
According to officials, the Fusion Center Task Force will provide investigators with a full-time lab staffed with a technician, analyst, and administrative assistant to provide administrative and technological support.
While each agency is responsible for providing its own personnel and equipment, Randolph County Commissioners have already approved funding to go towards the Fusion Center.
The Invictus Project will be the first of its kind in the State of North Carolina to use this full-time proactive model, through partnering with surrounding agencies as a force multiplier, and using tactical apprehension methods to interdict child predators.
In addition to fielding Cyber tips, the task force will focus on daily undercover operations to search for online child predators and develop operational plans to interdict predatorial searches for child victims and providing education and training of officers on topics centered around cyber investigations, human trafficking, child exploitation, undercover chat operations, tactics, and more.
“We want to send a message to all predators out there, all the perverts, that if you come to Randolph County, Alamance County, or any county in the Tirad that they are not welcome,” said Sheriff Seabolt. We want to help these kids before it happens, because when it happens, they become victims, and we don’t want any more victims.”