15 Years of Protecting Children from Predators

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Image Courtesy of WSET

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Sheriff Mike Brown recently hosted a reception in celebration of 15 years of protecting children from online sexual predators.

The Bedford County Sheriff's Office (VA), Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, was created by Sheriff Brown when the Sheriff’s Office, was one of only ten agencies in the country to be awarded a federal grant back in 1998, by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Originally known as Operation Blue Ridge Thunder (BRT), this task force was born and in full swing by 1999.  With only a handful of investigators and one evidence technician, they worked tirelessly and not only began perfecting online cases, they also went out into the community to educate and raise awareness about the many predators lurking online, surfing for their next child victim.  

Now known as the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (SOVA ICAC), they represent over 123 law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies across the Commonwealth of Virginia.  The task force’s main office utilizes a full staff; including investigators, digital forensic examiners, and support staff.  Members of the SOVA ICAC task force conduct training throughout the year for personnel from agencies across the United States and world.  Nationwide, the ICACs have grown to 61 coordinated task forces representing over 3,000 federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies.

Special guest speakers for this reception included Mr. Ron Laney, Senior Advisor to the Administrator of OJJDP, (retired), who is also known as “The father of the ICAC task Forces”, and is to be credited with the great success of the creation ICAC program throughout the United States.

Erik Estrada, also known as “Ponch” from the wildly popular TV series “CHiPs”, and who is a sworn deputy with the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office and active proponent of Internet safety for children, was on hand to speak to attendees and praise the work of SOVA ICAC. 

Also recognized during this celebration was former Captain Rick Wiita, the first Commander of the SOVA ICAC, as well as former Sergeant Sergio Kopelev, the author of the DOJ Grant that created the SOVA ICAC task force.