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GPD endeavor to lead the fight against child exploitation

With the internet growing and expanding at a rapid pace, the exploitation of children on the internet has risen.

To combat the issue, thousands of law enforcement officers scour the internet's darkest corners to protect the youth.

Mike Duffey is the Special Agent in Charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Cyber Crimes division.

“We are always operating two steps behind because of the way the internet works,” Duffey said.

It’s why the United States government created the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. With 61 federally funded units spread across the country, the Gainesville Police Department serves as the headquarters for all of north Florida.

“Our focus is preventing and investigating the online exploitation of children,” Sergeant Detective Christopher King said.

But with the nature of crimes that occur online, the situation needs to be reported to the tech companies and then sent to the authorities.

For example, a social media giant like Facebook receives a complaint about an image and shares that tip with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They then investigate the case to see where the individual or group in question might reside. They then contact the regional headquarters. That precinct then assigns the case to the specific department they believe the suspect resides.

King leads the GPD branch of the national network. The same network investigated and arrested former Florida quarterback Jalen Kitna.

The 19-year-old’s arrest came after a Discord account believed to belong to Kitna was flagged by the online platform. A statement from GPD revealed that Kitna believed the images to be legal and that his Discord account was deactivated.

It’s the latest in an alarming trend for ICAC in the region.

In 2017, the task force received nearly 2,000 tips. That number quadrupled in just five years, with GPD receiving nearly 5,000 tips in 2022.

“If you wanted to list five sites that you’re familiar with, I can probably tell you that we’ve received CyberTips from those providers,” King said.

In 2022, Gainesville Police completed 96 investigations of child exploitation. Those investigations produced 17 arrests and over 325 subpoenas.

Kitna is back with his family in Texas as the case makes its way through the court. King and his team are still responsible for the processing of evidence while the State Attorney’s Office takes over.

Since his first appearance in court, Kitna has been granted access to the internet under strict supervision so he can complete any necessary schoolwork.

Christopher is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.