During a 10-minute interval between breakfast and lunch one day this week, New Milford police Detective Katherine Massicotte was sexually propositioned online by one man in his 40s, while another similar-aged suitor emailed her a photo of his genitals.
Most troubling about these Internet-disguised texters -- and there were several -- is all thought they were "chatting'' with a 14-year-old girl.
Since January, Detective Massicotte has been New Milford's assigned detective to the state police's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
The appointment came with Chief Shawn Boyne's decision to be the first area department to join the cyber-crime initiative focused on apprehending Internet predators of children.
With his state police background, the chief was aware of the task force when he came to New Milford two years ago. He said he opted to join in order to enhance the department's ability to respond to escalating Internet crime, particularly with the rise in social networking that has left children vulnerable to cyber predators.
"Unlike the time when there was one freak stalking 20 kids at a playground, now you have freaks at a computer stalking 20,000 kids,'' said Chief Boyne, who noted many trap teen victims by pretending to be their peers.
By agreeing to designate one detective to work with the task force on investigations, Chief Boyne said the department is now tapped into a vast amount of resources that include computer equipment, extensive training opportunities, expertise and backup that will behoove the agency with its own criminal investigations.
With the task force help, the NMPD chief said he wants to "provoke thought'' about technology that is here to stay, but must be handled with care.
"We want to be proactive. We want to prevent kids from getting into situations they can't get out of,'' Chief Boyne said. "And it's our obligation to make parents aware of what's out there.''
"Isn't it great?'' Mayor Patricia Murphy asked about the alliance. "When the chief first talked to me about becoming involved, I was all for it because we have to keep pace with all this cyber crime. It's so scary.''
For Det. Massicotte, an almost six-year department veteran, the position has proved an eye-opener into the seediest side of cyber crime.
"When I sign on, I take a deep breath,'' admits Det. Massicotte, who, despite training and fellow task force detectives' warnings, found what she saw online to be "shocking.''
"I warned her,'' Chief Boyne said. " I said, `You won't believe it -- it's a strong dose of reality. These are parasites on the community.''
Yet Det. Massicotte has embraced the work, her chief said.
The detectivee said she finds reward in helping to capture these criminals, whether in New Milford or elsewhere. She said she, too, appreciates the chance to broaden public awareness.
"Parents need to talk to their kids about Internet safety, and reach out if (they or loved ones) become a victim,'' Det. Massicotte said.
The New Milford Police Department will offer a just-for-parents presentation Thursday, June 14 at 7 p.m. in the New Milford High School theater about its recent alliance with the state police task force.
Det. Katherine Massicotte will conduct a live chat to give parents insight into some of the graphic texts and pictures that are posted to common social-networking sites.
The event will include tips for parents on how best to monitor their children's Internet use, as well as information about how best to talk to children about their cyber behavior.
State police Sgt. Kevin Albanese, the head of the statewide task force, will also be on hand to offer information.
Sgt. Albanese recommends parents view up-to-date information on NetSmartz.org.
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