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My agency and I have a long-standing commitment to protecting children, especially those who have been victimized or exploited.

These are the most heartbreaking investigations because the physiological and psychological trauma caused by the abuse forever changes the lives of child victims.

In December, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Computer Crimes Unit concluded a month-long special operation where we arrested 13 men who possessed and shared child pornography.

Together, the suspects face a total of 2,353 charges.

Those arrested in this operation create a market for these kinds of horrific images that are dependent upon the continued sexual abuse and rape of babies and children worldwide. Each time these images and videos are uploaded and shared these children are victimized again and again.

I’ve been often asked why I am so passionate about getting these deviants off the streets. Here’s why – just as we concluded the operation, my Special Victims Unit arrested registered sex offender Daniel Sweeney of Lakeland on the charge of video voyeurism. He was recording pornographic (nude) videos, in the bathroom, of a child to whom he had access.

Sweeney was on 12-year probation following a five-year prison sentence for possessing child pornography. His disgusting crime escalated from viewing and possessing to actually creating child porn – victimizing the child he filmed.

Whether you are a parent, grandparent, good neighbor or concerned citizen, please take the time to communicate and enforce the steps listed below and rules to reduce your child’s risk of being harmed by a predator:

Never let children go anywhere by themselves. Always use the buddy system, preferably with a trusted adult.

Stress the importance of reporting incidents, especially if your child has been touched in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Remind children to not answer the door or phone without an adult present. Tell children to call 9-1-1 if someone tries to break in.

Limit and monitor your child’s computer and social media use.

Ensure parental controls are turned on all your children’s electronic devices. When purchasing a new cell phone or tablet, ask the salesperson to enable the controls before leaving the store.

Explain the dangers of posting personal information and inappropriate pictures online. Let children know how you expect them to behave online.

Make sure children understand the dangers of meeting their online “friends” in person. People may not really be who they say they are!

For more online safety information, visit our website at http://www.polksheriff.org/internet-safety.

Grady Judd is the Sheriff of Polk County. Learn more about Judd and the Polk County Sheriff's Office at polksheriff.org.