For the past seven years, Flint Waters, a father of four, has devoted his life to patrolling the Internet to take down child predators as commander of the Wyoming Internet Sex Crimes Against Children Task Force. Four years ago, he and two other men—Bill Wiltse of the Salem, Oregon, police department; and Robert Leazenby of the Wyoming attorney general's office—developed a revolutionary software program that tracks computers trading pornographic images and videos of children. The program runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can pinpoint the specific location of offenders' computers. His investigations have led to more than 100 arrests, and more than 30 children have been saved.
Although the program is highly effective, Flint says there are simply not enough resources available to law enforcement officials to help put predators away. "We're getting better at finding them, seeing who's out there," he says. "We're just overwhelmed by the numbers."
Flint says about 15,000 images are traded on a daily basis. In the past two years alone, 300,000 to 500,000 computers have sent such images in the United States—and that's only on the computers that are trackable.
When predators are caught, Flint says he's the one who interviews them. "They'll look you in the eye. They'll describe it. They'll get excited about their interest. They'll talk about how society just hasn't caught up and this is what they should be doing," he says. "I've arrested them, have them get out on bond and on the way home pick up another computer and get back online to find the material. ... They don't stop."
Flint says those who work on Internet crimes sometimes feel like they're at sea and have to decide which children get to escape in the rescue boat. "I don't mean it to sound like it's hard for law enforcement—its gut wrenching," he says. "But those kids who are waiting for us—that's who it's hard for. That's who we need to be able to try and reach out to."