Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 24, 2013

Law enforcement strives to keep up with ‘epidemic’ of sex crimes

BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Detective Corporal Steven Sommers of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department has learned a great deal since he completed the training in March to become an investigator with the West Virginia Internet Crimes against Children Task Force.

“Fifty years ago, teenagers thought they could do just about anything, and they did,” Sommers said. “Teenagers are the same today, but now, with the Internet and social media they’re more accessible. It’s not a world that it used to be.”

With the support of Mercer County Sheriff D.B. “Don” Meadows, Sommers underwent specialized training to prepare himself for serving with the ICAC task force. Sommers and other task force members executed a search warrant at a Mercer County residence on Thursday that led to the arrest of Lindsey Bowling, 29, of Princeton on 150 counts of receiving and possessing child pornography.

On Saturday, Sommers confirmed that Bowling, who is being held without bond at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver, had previously worked at the Concord University Day Care Center, “before he went to work at Lil Camper Dependable Child Care in Princeton,” Sommers said.

Meadows and Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash issued statements on Friday, asking for parents of children who had been at Lil Camper Dependable Child Care to attend a meeting at the prosecutor’s office in the Mercer County Courthouse Annex on Tuesday, Nov. 26, at 10 a.m. “We’re not making any accusations,” Meadows said. “This is just part of the investigation.”

While in March, Sommers was trained in the state-of-the-art of law enforcement techniques to track Internet predators, he said he will receive additional training in January.

“Law enforcement tries to keep up with the new technology, but a lot of times, criminals can get their hands on new technology before it goes through the vetting process that law enforcement needs to go through so the evidence gathered can be admissible in court,” Sommers said. “Once we have the new tools, they have to be molded to the changes. For that reason, I think we’ll always be behind the eight-ball, but we’re gaining ground.”

Sommers said that the West Virginia State Police has been doing an exceptional job of investigating these crimes since the 1990s, but not all counties have made the commitment like Mercer County has to dedicate funds for a full-time investigator to work on Internet crimes against children.

“There is an epidemic of these kinds of crimes and everybody has them. We have benefited by having a sheriff who was willing to find a way to assign an investigator full time,” Sommers said.

“One of the problems is that there is no stereotype in these crimes,” Sommers said. “Some times, you just have to go by the kind of a gut feeling that a parent has. We look for something wrong. As a parent, you’re looking for something that doesn’t fit and isn’t quite right.”

Sommers said that he hopes to do more public awareness and public education in the community for parents and children to inform them of the dangers of the Internet.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com