As with most other fields, technology has now provided law enforcement with another tool to assist in the identification and apprehension of online predators. The "Online Predator Profiling System" or OPPS is a database developed by a company called Adzone Research, Inc.
Dan Wasserman, the managing director of Adzone, told me that OPPS
"is a database of chat rooms that our police consultants directed us to monitor specifically, because they have a preponderance of illicit activity. The data has been collected for over 18 months and is extremely easy to use via online access. OPPS has been successfully deployed in the Greater DC, New York, and Chicago areas, as well as throughout Florida and Texas. And, it has been used for other crimes, including homicide and gang activity."
Wasserman set up a demo for me and I gave the database a pretty good look. Miraculously, I could set search date parameters going back in time to the beginning of their operation, and search for certain key words or disturbing acronyms, such as the ones above. I was able to see who had been using these terms, and whom they had been speaking with. Yes, most of what I saw were innocent conversations, yet the potential of what I was seeing was staggering. There was little doubt in my mind that even a novice like myself would be able to use this database to identify predators.
I asked Wasserman about the cost of the database. He told me,
"For the past year the company has been marketing OPPS on an annual license basis, priced at $999. But, this week AdZone announced "InstantOPPS," which is access to the full database for 24 hours at only $49.95!"
So, what kind of track record does the Online Predator Profiling System have? Wasserman told me,
"It's only six months since we launched OPPS, and we have data for the men arrested as a result of Dateline NBC's 'To Catch a Predator' series. These men were from three dispersed jurisdictions: Ohio, Colorado, and now Florida. TV programs like 'To Catch a Predator' and 'Americas Most Wanted' not only keeps the predator problem in the public eye; they also help us validate the effectiveness of OPPS. Even though we capture information on thousands of online conversations, being able to use this public information gives us a chance to get the word out about how effective OPPS truly is."
Last week's arrest of 1600 sexual predators by the U.S. Marshals Service may prove to be another milestone, or proving ground for the OPPS system. If one of these accused predators claims that he is innocent, or the he's never done anything like this before, there may now be an electronic "paper trail." According to Wasserman, "Now there is a tool that could set the record straight and prove a former or ongoing 'course of conduct.'"
With the marketing of the new Instant OPPS program, Wasserman hopes to make the database available to small departments with limited budgets. This tool will now also be available to non-law enforcement investigators, journalists, and anyone else who is willing to use their credit card to charge the $49.95 daily usage fee. (See website link below)
As investigators, we should be aware of new and innovative tools that can assist us. But, we are more than just investigators. We are also parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, mentors, etc. The children that we know all use the internet, making them potential victims for these predators. We all need to know about the dangers of chat rooms, instant messaging, e-mail, and web sites. There are also nationwide and statewide sexual predator lists that you should be aware of. Below are some links to web sites that can help you protect your loved ones, and alert you about predators who live or move into your communities.
Most states now have their own registries. The Florida sexual predator database will not only provide photos, pedigree, and their sex predator history, but they even will produce information about the predator's registered vehicle. Visit the Florida list below, or your own state's database to see what is available.