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District Attorney Investigator Mike Harris specializes in crimes against children, including those that begin on the Internet.
Harris, a 30-year law enforcement veteran, was with the Lakewood Police Department for eight years before joining the District Attorney's Office in 1996. Since then, Harris has led the District Attorney's Office Child Sex Offender Internet Investigations (CHEEZO) unit working to prevent Internet sex offenders from victimizing unsuspecting and vulnerable children they meet in chat rooms. Harris and his team, known as CHEEZO, have established themselves as leaders in this field, providing assistance and training to other law enforcement agencies in and outside of Colorado.
"The Internet is a community of its own,” Harris said. “I call it the 'street corner of today's society,’ as it relates to cyberspace.”
In 1996, Harris became frustrated with the increasing number of sex-assault-on-children cases, and he wanted to do something to prevent these assaults. Harris knew child sex offenders kept pace with new and constantly changing technology. Their use of cameras, scanners, Polaroid cameras and video recorders evolved, and these predators began using the Internet. So Harris decided to use the same technology to actively investigate sex offenders.
Harris was especially concerned about the number of unsupervised children visiting Internet chat rooms. He discovered these chat rooms provided child sex offenders with a safe and relatively anonymous opportunity to meet victims. Children only see the persona the perpetrator wants them to see. Through years of practice, predators have learned to read kids, develop their trust and begin what appears to be a friendship.
Through research, Harris discovered that these new Internet chat rooms provided few, if any, safeguards or policing. Kids could meet new friends, buy drugs or stolen property and arrange prostitution. It became obvious this was a place sex offenders could meet and lure children with minimal detection and apprehension.
Knowing perpetrators often presented themselves as someone they were not, possibly older or younger, Harris decided to use the tactic to his advantage. He began portraying himself as an underage boy or girl, and his fear was realized when he portrayed himself as a child in a chat room. Shortly after visiting, Harris was bombarded by adults who thought he was an underage boy or girl, and he has been going online undercover, looking for sex offenders ever since.
While the CHEEZO unit is no longer conducted undercover investigations, they are a force in public safety and prevention. The CHEEZO unit has provided over 100,000 presentations in school and communities. Teaching online safety is one of the most powerful tools we have in keeping kids safe online,
For more information about educational programs for parents and children, contact Investigator Mike Harris at 303-271-6766.
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