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Sheriff Joins Effort to Halt Child Assaults

July 02, 1997|RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Seeking to capitalize on the growing awareness and momentum against sex offenders who victimize children, Orange County officials announced on Tuesday that the Sheriff's Department will join a Southern California multi-agency law enforcement team that seeks to reduce child sex assaults and exploitation.

The announcement, made as the parents of child murder victim Anthony Michael Martinez looked on, came on the day the state made available a database listing the whereabouts of 63,920 registered sex offenders and a few days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a federal law meant to curb smut on the Internet.

With those milestones, Board of Supervisors Chairman William G. Steiner said, the time was right for Orange County to intensify its pursuit of such cases. The Sheriff's Department will assign a full-time investigator to the 12-person Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement Team, or SAFE. In return, the task force will hone in on cases in the Sheriff's Department's jurisdiction.

"By adding one investigator, we get 13," said Steiner spokesman James Campbell, who estimated the annual cost to the county at $96,000.

The Sheriff's Department becomes the second Orange County agency, after Huntington Beach, to join the team, which includes the FBI, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the state Department of Justice and the Postal Service.

Lt. Tom Sirkel of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department credits the team with about 200 arrests--and a conviction rate of 98%--since its inception two years ago. The bulk of those cases involved child pornography, for which their often is physical evidence that makes prosecutions air-tight, he said.

"We have to attack this problem in a coordinated, team approach," said Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates. "When we all see the tragedy in Beaumont it doesn't take much effort on my part to come forward in whatever way we can."

He referred to the kidnapping and murder of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez, who was abducted April 7 while playing his yard. His body was found two weeks later. That investigation continues.

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