Tracking down child predators in Jackson County

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - By Doug Walker – bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Detective Hope Thornton does most of her work from the back of her SUV.  But it's a job unlike most others.  She tracks down child predators with the use of specialized computer equipment and software.  And the detective's success rate is rising rapidly.

"Well, in 2010 we've had 17 arrests, including the one last week with the 25 counts," Thornton said.  "In 2009, there was three. And in 2008, there was only one."

Going over case files and paperwork involving child pornographers is part of the sometimes tedious process, but Thornton doesn't mind.   "It's a calling.  You have to love what you do, especially with children.  I sympathize with victims and victim's rights and I feel that children need a voice."

While all crimes are serious, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd holds nothing back when it comes to this particular crime.  He lets everyone know exactly how he feels.

"It's evil. It's just plain evil in my opinion," Byrd said.  "These crimes that are against children, these folks, what are they thinking? When you take advantage of a 3-year-old child, or a 7-year-old child, or a 12-year-old child, it's horrible. It's absolutely horrible."

And not catching these child predators could lead to something even more horrible, according to Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence.

"You look at enough of those pictures and eventually you're going to act on it," Lawrence said. "So you're going to have another child in our community now is going to become a victim, so we take them very serious."

And Thornton says so are other law enforcement agencies on the coast.

"I do know that Harrison County, Waveland, Biloxi are getting affiliated with the ICAC unit. It's coming from the Attorney General's Office."

Penalties for a child pornography conviction are harsh.  A single count can mean up to 40 years in prison.

Funding for the program and the equipment used in tracking down child predators comes from grant money handed out by the state Attorney General's Office.

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