More than 2,300 suspected online child sex predators have been identified and arrested nationwide; seven of those arrests were made right here in Alaska. 

The arrests are the result of a three-month initiative Alaska's Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force participated in called Operation Broken Heart.

Anchorage Police lead Alaska's ICAC task force; the Alaska State Troopers are also involved, as well as other agencies across the state.

APD Sgt. Aaron Whitt says he expects more arrests to come out of their work during March, April, and May, citing the 39 investigations initiated during that time. 

"What we know is that the state of Alaska has a significant problem with crimes against children-- both with physical abuse and sexual abuse," said Whitt. 

He says the difficult part of his job is keeping up with ever-changing trends as new apps are launched and predators discover creative ways to interact with potential victims online. 

"Being able to put a person behind the keyboard is critical for any of the investigations," he said, which is something he believes law enforcement agencies in Alaska did successfully in the seven cases charged during Operation Broken Heart. 

According to an APD Nixle alert, these are the seven individuals charged as of now: 

  • Jeremy Strunk, 39, faces multiple charges including Sex Abuse Minor 1. APD Case: 18-17528
  • Michael Clark, Jr., 28, faces a charge of Possession of Child Pornography. Alaska State Troopers Case: AK17075059
  • Vance Peronto, 57, faces multiple charges including Sex Abuse Minor 2. Alaska State Troopers Case: AK18027772
  • Cory Lockhart, 28, faces multiple charges including Possession of Child Pornography. Juneau Police Department Case: 180227-011
  • Byran Oftedahl, 35, faces multiple charges including Possession of Child Pornography. Ketchikan Police Department Case: 18-464
  • Dale Willis, 43, faces multiple charges including Possession of Child Pornography. Ketchikan Police Department 17-4225
  • Brandon Cockburn, 39, faces multiple charges including Distribution of Child Pornography. APD Case: 17-8688

In at least two of the cases, the alleged behavior progressed from online interactions to a physical crime- or an attempt at one. 

Whitt says he is seeing a trend in Alaska that could be a positive one. 

"The trend is our cyber tips have exploded over the years. We have gone from 100 or maybe 150 over the years, to nearly 400 to 450 cyber tips. We're on track for 450 cyber tips this year." 

Rather than a jump in cyber crimes, Whitt says he believes the numbers reflect a significant increase in people reporting suspected crimes.  

Whitt says the most effective thing parents can do to protect their children is to be engaged in a child's online activity, and look for these red flags: 

  • Your child changes or minimizes the screen when you walk into the room. 
  • Your child suddenly spends substantially more time online. 
  • Your child starts getting strange phone calls from people you don't know. 
  • Your child has new clothes, CDs or other items from unknown sources. 
  • Your child gets overly upset if Internet access is restricted or unavailable for even a short time. 
  • Your child is unusually withdrawn. 

If you become aware of the online transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography, immediately make a report to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or www.cybertipline.com

Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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