Perdue offers GBI help against online sexual predators

DECATUR - Borrowing from a popular series of television crime dramas, Gov. Sonny Perdue unveiled on Monday an initiative aimed at online sexual predators who target children.

CSI Georgia, in this case an abbreviation for "Child Safety Initiative,'' will triple the number of Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents assigned to cases involving child sexual predators and child pornography and double the agency's computer specialists who collect forensic evidence to prosecute crimes perpetrated over the Internet.

"As e-mail and instant messaging become more prevalent, naive young people are being victimized,'' Perdue said during a news conference at the GBI's headquarters in Decatur. "It won't be tolerated here.''

Monday's announcement marked the second law enforcement crackdown brought forth by Perdue this month. Two weeks ago, he traveled to a driver's license office in downtown Atlanta to tout the formation of a task force targeting illegal immigrants who use false documents in getting licenses.

In both instances, the reaction from the campaign of Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, the Democrat opposing the Republican governor in November, was similar.

Taylor spokesman Rick Dent accused Perdue of taking action only at the end of a four-year term in order to win votes.

"Where has Sonny been?'' Dent asked. "Sexual predators on the Internet have been a problem the entire term of Sonny Perdue. ... We need a governor who is serious about crime and sexual predators for four years, not four minutes for a press event.''

Perdue said he decided to beef up the GBI's capabilities to investigate Internet predators when agency Director Vernon Keenan made him aware of a backlog that was slowing down arrests and prosecutions.

Keenan said the GBI has a five-month backlog of seized computers that need to be analyzed for evidence. Even as those cases pile up, the agency is receiving 40 to 50 new cases each month from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, he said.

"There are cases that are being hung up due to a lack of resources,'' Keenan said. "This will make a major dent.''

Subject to an appropriation of $900,000 from the General Assembly, CSI Georgia will add eight agents to the GBI undercover force assigned to online sexual predator and pornography cases involving children and five computer specialists to collect evidence.

Besides those duties, the new agents also will train local police in how to protect children from online predators and serve as a resource to educate children, parents and teachers about safe use of the Internet.

Perdue cited U.S. Justice Department statistics showing that one in seven young people have received an unwanted sexual solicitation over the Internet during the past year, while one in 25 also have received an aggressive sexual solicitation.

"These numbers are startling,'' he said. "I don't think we ought to accept any of it.''