Editor’s Note: This is the first article looking behind the scenes of how Canadian County law enforcement works to find and stop online predators of children.
By Glen Miller
El Reno Tribune
There are men and women walking among us that share a sadistic side to their personalities, one which they try ever so cleverly to keep hidden from the public as well as their own families.
They are bankers, politicians, soldiers, doctors, lawyers, lawmen, firefighters and even clergymen. They come from all walks of life but share a common bond that is dark, twisted and sickening – the uncontrollable urge to have sexual relationships with minors.
“They are walking around us every day. People you have grown up with or worked with,” said Canadian County Sheriff’s Maj. Adam Flowers.
Flowers heads up the department’s unit tasked with catching pedophiles and prosecuting them to the full extent of the law. The unit is called Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC).
“We are protecting children,” Canadian County Sheriff Chris West said. “That’s why we do this. It sickens me knowing this is going on. There is nothing more precious than our children. The sad thing is I could put 10 people on this, and they would stay busy 100% of the time.”
Canadian County’s ICAC unit was formed in February 2011 by former Sheriff Randy Edwards. Flowers, a 16-year veteran lawman, was hired to start up the fledgling effort.
“The sheriff brought me in because at that time the Dateline show “To Catch a Predator” was making its rounds and he wanted to have a program here that focused on catching child predators and child pornography.
“People that were trying to meet kids online and pick them up for sex,” Flowers said.
Flowers was a one-man show in the beginning. He attended forensic school in Pasadena, Calif., where he graduated tops in his class as a computer forensic examiner.
“Everything was happening on the Internet with computers, laptops and cell phones. Instead on having to rely on a third agency or party to examine all those things, he (Edwards) wanted it all done in-house,” Flowers said.
Six months after being hired, ICAC was up and running in the county. Armed with a computer and a dedicated cell phone, Flowers began investigating and building cases at an alarming rate.
“By August of 2011, we were up and running and making cases using Yahoo chat, which was our first platform. For the longest time it was just me until Sheriff West took over in 2017. He expanded the task force by over 400% and we are constantly expanding,” Flowers said.
West said expanding the ICAC unit was fulfilling a campaign promise.
“When I ran for sheriff, the number one question I got from people while knocking on doors was that they liked the child predator program and if you get elected, will you keep it and help keep their kids safe.
“I campaigned on children being a top priority because what is not more important to people than kids. I believe the public supports this and that’s why I put more resources toward it,” West said.
Since 2017, the unit has expanded to four full-time officers, four forensic computers and two dedicated cell phones, with another set to be put in service soon, Flowers said.
The phones are used by decoys to communicate verbally with pedophiles.
West says the ICAC unit costs up to half a million dollars yearly to fund, but it’s worth every cent.
“It takes a commitment to resources. By the time you factor in salaries, benefits, all your resources and fees, it’s between $400,000 and $500,000 a year.
“We are not going to operate shady. We are going to do it the right way,” West said.
Canadian County’s sheriff believes the problem of underage sex and sex trafficking has been an issue in the county long before ICAC was created.
The national and worldwide epidemic has once again moved center stage by the recent blockbuster movie “Sound of Freedom.”
“When people start asking about sex trafficking and human trafficking, we say, yes, it’s real. We are involved in it, and we are chasing and pursuing it for over a decade unheralded,” West said.
The national ICAC Task Force Program was created in 1998 by the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
According to the DOJ website, the national ICAC program is made up of 61 different regional task forces that encompass 5,230 federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies throughout all 50 states.
Those agencies have reviewed 7 million reports of online child exploitation resulting in the arrests of more than 134,000 people.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) is one of those regional agencies and hosts the Oklahoma ICAC Task Force, which is made up of 50 local entities statewide – including Canadian County, according to its website.
An Oklahoma City newspaper reported in 2020 that the state received 3,802 tips related to online child exploitation cases, an increase of 225 percent since 2015.
RISE IN CASES
Flowers says the increase of online child sex predators has been climbing, even in the county, due to the computer age and the push for affordable Internet access to every American.
Sheriff West agrees.
“Computers don’t have county or state lines. These computer crimes reach out to whomever is on the Internet,” West said.
This creates a major problem for law enforcement agencies in dealing with jurisdictional hurdles. Canadian County took the aggressive approach to the issue by joining the OSBI Task Force.
“Maybe 5% of these crimes come from inside Canadian County,” Flowers said. “A lot of them come from other counties or even out of state. When we became a task force member with OSBI, a lot of our suspects were outside of the county and that limits what you can do unless you get them to come to Canadian County.
“We needed to have the ability to go get those predators, even though they were victimizing kids in our county, our jurisdiction stopped at the county line.”
By gaining OSBI credentials, the reach of the county’s ICAC effort is borderless.
“The OSBI had the credentials that allowed us to go anywhere in the state for crimes related to ICAC,” Flowers said. “Instead of stopping at the county border and finding another law enforcement agency to help us, we can cross the county borders and interview people and arrest them and bring them back to Canadian County and lock them up.
“When we do our stings, it’s someone here in the county that these bad guys are talking to, so that’s why we bring them back to Canadian County.”
Since 2011, the county’s ICAC unit has made more than 200 arrests and carries a 100% conviction rate. Its investigation numbers are well above the arrest total.
Most have been men, though Flowers said two women have been arrested.
The targets have been both minor girls and boys.
“We have arrested guys that were pedophiles and were interested in going after boys,” Flowers said. “We arrested a guy that was going though pilot school in Durant at Southeastern. He was a graduate of Mustang and talking to a Mustang High School boy and was wanting to have a homosexual relationship.
“We went down to Durant and arrested him on the runway and brought him back to Canadian County.”
Those 200-plus arrests have brought about a wide range of evidence into the county’s possession.
“We have arrested men with drugs, seized vehicles because they brought meth, marijuana, opioids and ecstasy in them. They have brought animals to have sex with kids,” Flowers said.
Canadian County’s efforts to curtail these Internet crimes has drawn both state and national attention. Flowers was given the prestigious Director’s Award by the OSBI.
“When they gave it to Adam, we were told that it’s something that is usually reserved for OSBI agents,” West said. “Because of his work and success and conviction rates and his work on other crimes for the OSBI, Adam has helped establish himself as the top pedophile catcher in Oklahoma.”
The county has helped offset some of its costs, especially for equipment and program upgrades, through extra work with the OSBI outside of the normal ICAC realm.
“We get a lot of grants from OSBI for the work that we do for them that some of the expanding we have done has come at no cost to the taxpayers,” Flowers said. “Some of our equipment and training is covered by the ICAC Task Force because we are such key players and teammates with the OSBI.”
Flowers is also pleased with the county’s conviction rate on predator cases.
“With a 100% conviction rate, that shows we are big on the rule of law,” the sheriff’s investigator said. “If you didn’t do it, you didn’t do it. If there is no evidence to support it, we are not going to arrest you.
“It’s just as important to find out someone didn’t do it as is it to find out they did do it. We follow the rule of law. We follow the best practices and that is just success.”