Ashli Sims and NewsOn6.com

TULSA, Oklahoma -- An Internet joke or "seemingly innocent menace?" Pedobear, the cartoon image and the people who dress up like it, have Tulsa Police putting parents on alert.

"Absolute disgust to think that a group of people who are child predators have a mascot," said Desiree Doherty, Parent Child Center of Tulsa.

The "Pedo" in Pedobear is short for pedophile and originated in Japan. The website Uelesque says pedobear started as a way to mock pedophilia.  The site says when someone would post a risqué picture of an underage girl, someone would respond with a picture of Pedobear.

But instead of popping up in cyberspace, Pedobear is now walking among us or at least Californians. The appearance of someone in a Pedobear costume handing out free candy to children at the San Diego Comicon prompted San Luis Obispo County's Sheriff's Department to issue a warning to parents. 

Tulsa Police also picked it up. The alert links Pedobear's image to people, who have "a predilection to sexually inappropriate, or even, sexually assaultive behavior."

"His cute face and non-threatening appearance negate the truth of his sinister, much darker side," the news release stated.  "PedoBear is and should be associated with the Internet and pedophiles sexually-preferential offenders who reportedly use him to communicate their interests in young children to each other."

Pedobear gets more than five million hits on Google and this year wasn't the first time it appeared at Comicon. Websites, like Gawker.com, have scoffed at the police warning, calling the cartoon nothing more than a joke.

But the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department is standing by their alert and so is TPD.  A Tulsa sergeant says Pedobear did start out as a punchline, but it's now being used by pedophiles to identify each other.

"Even if it started out as a joke or continues as a joke, parents still need to be aware," Doherty said. "My message would be never assume innocence."

News On 6 reporter Ashli Sims checked with TPD and Pedobear has not been spotted in Tulsa. And according to federal statistics it's not a stranger in a costume but people you know who are most likely to be a child predator.

Only seven percent of juvenile sexual assault victims are attacked by strangers.