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ARDMORE police work to capture online predators

(ARDMORE) - Ardmore may not have one of the largest police forces in the Oklahoma, but when it comes to nabbing pedophiles who prowl the Internet, Ardmore has had some of the biggest success.

The department has launched 25 online sting operations since 1999, and each defendant who has gone to trial has been convicted.

All this with just two detectives working part of the time on the cases.

``Little Ardmore, we're doing more than anyone in the state,'' said Sgt. Ed Harwood, who works on the cases.

Harwood led an undercover investigation in which a Pennsylvania man drove nearly 1,500 miles from Whitehall, Pa., to Ardmore to meet a girl named ``Amber'' for sex in October.

Instead of meeting a 14-year-old, David A. Newhard II found Ardmore police officers and FBI agents. He later pleaded guilty to one federal child sex charge and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Harwood said the trick is getting suspects to believe they are talking to a child. Investigators fabricate an identity and set up an Internet chat profile that includes a childhood photo of an employee or relative who is now an adult.

Once that's established, Harwood can log into a chat room and other participants will know he's there and can look at the profile. Those thinking Harwood is a young girl who is fed up with boys her age will start conversations that could become more sexual over time.

``By the second conversation, they'll be talking about coming to meet you,'' Harwood said.

After that, Harwood said they can get e-mail addresses and find out when the participant goes online, obtain Internet service records and get financial records.

If the suspect agrees to a meeting, someone with a ``young-sounding'' voice talks to the person and the sting operation continues until that person is arrested.

In the case of Dennis Russell Shelby, the person he allegedly had contact with was a real teen-age girl. The girl's mother called police after becoming concerned about the sexual nature of a conversation her daughter had been having with a man through the Internet.

Harwood said he learned that Shelby worked as a dispatcher for the Altus Police Department, and Shelby was arrested at work.

He faces a preliminary hearing this week on state charges of possession and distribution of child pornography.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 28.5 million children are on the Internet at any given time. Of those between ages 10-17, one in five are targets of sexual solicitations, authorities believe. One in 33 are asked to meet someone, are telephoned or sent mail, money or gifts by strangers they met online.

Harwood said he is disturbed by the enormity of crimes.

``We're in our infancy,'' he said, adding that most police departments don't investigate these crimes. ``That's not enough.''

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