Attorney general wants to beef up fight on Net crimes against children


Published: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 11:09 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Attorney General Bill McCollum is setting investigating Internet crimes against children as his top priority, saying Thursday he wants a 10-fold increase in the people assigned to the problem.

Right now the attorney general's office has five people assigned to those crimes working out of a Jacksonville office. McCollum is seeking $4.2 million to expand the program to 50 employees with investigators located around the state.

He says he has the full support of Gov. Charlie Crist, who set up the Internet crimes against children unit when he served as attorney general.

"I know it's a dramatic increase, but it's very needed," said McCollum, who said the five-person team made 34 arrests last year.

Most of the new positions would be for undercover officers who will "go on the Internet and ferret out the people who would attack our children before they do," McCollum said. "Some of this is child pornography, a lot of this is people who are going out to lure kids."

McCollum met with reporters to talk about the office he took over last week.

It was clear that he's still getting organized. Moving boxes were stacked on his office furniture, framed photos and certificates were on the floor instead of the walls and McCollum acknowledged he still has to hire some key staff members.

And while he has several areas he is putting on a special concern list, such as addressing gang violence, crimes against the elderly, identity theft and reducing the clemency backlog, he said details on what he plans to do about the problems are still to come.

While the list has a heavy focus on criminal issues, he said he is going to continue Crist's focus on consumer issues.

"It's a high priority," McCollum said. "If you have anticompetitive, or fraudulent, or unfair and deceptive trade practices, they're going to be just as highly addressed or more so in this administration as they were in the previous one."

One area where he may not be seeing eye-to-eye with Crist is restoring felons' voting rights once they have served their sentences. Crist has indicated he favors automatic restoration of rights once a sentence is complete.

McCollum said there are certain felons that shouldn't be included.

"I think there are selective people who ought to get their rights restored. The current process is cumbersome, it's not working well, it clearly needs to be improved," McCollum said. "I don't think it should be canned. I think that violent criminals, and for some of the people who are sexual predators and others, automatic restoration is wrong."

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