Florida law enforcement agencies, backed by hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grants, are patrolling the Internet in the same way officers have traditionally pounded the streets of their beats, says the Sarasota Herald Tribune. The number of officers searching for cyberspace crimes is rapidly rising as they turn social networking Web sites, such as Facebook.com and MySpace.com, into their personal beats. Last week, Punta Gorda police arrested a teenager who boasted on a MySpace Web page of smoking marijuana. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office conducted its first successful online sex predator sting this year, and three Sarasota police detectives work computer investigations full time. “We have to go where the criminals are,” said Mike Phillips of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Computer Crime Center.
Because children have been taught not to talk to strangers, child molesters who stalked bus stops have turned to popular teen sites such as MySpace.com. Sometimes investigators realize too late that criminals were advertising their behavior right on the Internet, a public domain. A few children were caught last year using the Web to do strip shows for subscribers. Children don’t expect police to be scavenging their Web pages, but their expectation of privacy on the Internet would not be recognized in court, said Paul Sullivan, a defense attorney. In 2004, the Florida Department of Children & Families started giving the law enforcement department a $100,000 annual grant to fund Internet investigators in local agencies. The funds are used for computers, Internet access and online undercover training.