Spokane detectives use Facebook to catch sexual predators


by Katie Utehs


Posted on May 10, 2012 at 7:01 PM

SPOKANE-- Detectives are working with Facebook to catch predators. They are filing search warrants for profile records.

Without revealing too many investigative secrets, the Facebook detectives explained how it works.

Predators hide behind a screen. The anonymity of the internet is a seemingly safe haven for posting pornographic pictures, chatting with minors, and seeking vulnerable children.
Detectives are exposing predators that aren't as hidden as they think.

Facebook boasts over 840 million users. Unfortunately some use it as a tool to target children.

Spokane Police Detective Brian Cestnik works to catch those people. "The thing we see the most is predators friending kids, either meeting them in gaming sites or just searching for them by geographic location and trying to get these kids to meet up with them. They're not subtle about it. They're pretty explicit most of the time and they're trying to get kids to meet up with them for sex." 

Yet, the same site that's used for the chat, works openly with law enforcement. "When we're able to do a preservation letter and get a hold of Facebook and say we need documents and supply them with a search warrant. It's almost instant. They get that stuff back and they partner with us and so it makes our job a lot easier when we have that good relationship."

The most common case is communication with a minor for immoral purposes; sexual predators asking for nude photos or to meet up for sex.

A search warrant for Facebook records filed by a Spokane Detective outlines an explicit chat, involving a 13-year-old girl and an older suspect. The suspect asks "If u culd do anything for a night wild u sleep with me?" she asks "you would still want to even though I’m only 13?" The suspect saoid yeah and that he was 17.

The suspect is most likely not 17, so detectives like Dan Haley with the Spokane county sheriff's office try to find them. He looks at the web address or URL connected with the suspect. "That’s when I take that write a search warrant to Facebook and say please tell me who this URL belongs to."

"When we're getting a hold of Facebook it's not only to see everything the bad guy has their pictures their likes, dislikes, their friends everything. But, it's to get their IP addresses and IP logs so we can find out where they're at."

Detectives say without Facebook's help it could take weeks to find the same information.
They use Facebook to track down suspects, and in other cases simply take away one of the means for predators to find victims.

Two years ago Facebook kicked 100,000 sex offenders off.

Haley explained how easy it is for law enforcement. He just has to verify that the facebook profile belongs to a registered sex offender. "Whether they are sharing with the public or not, if I can verify that person…it's an e-mail to Facebook saying knock this guy off. Just like that? Just like that."

The detectives spend a lot of time on Facebook and they're not tending to Farmville crops. Instead they're focused on pulling out the many bad seeds luring online. "When people ask what I do, I tell them that I protect children. Sometimes from themselves. So that's the big thing for me."

Detective Cestnik says he has a couple current cases based on Facebook warrants being reviewed at the prosecutor’s office. The main thing both detectives repeated over and over is how parents play a key role in preventing online exploitation. There simply aren't enough detectives to keep up with the number of cases.