Men in Dragnet

The Arvada Police Department likes to put on skirts and chase pedophiles.

The middle-aged man lives in Kansas. It's early 1997, and he recently finished parole for a sex offense he committed years ago, but he responds to a sex ad in a local publication. Within a few months, he's trading letters with a Colorado woman named Ann. Ann is into the same kind of perverse sex that he enjoys. She soon makes it clear that she'd like him to have sex with her eleven-year-old daughter, Lisa. To "train" the girl and provide her with the same kind of "life lesson" that Ann herself learned when she was young.

Over the following six months, the two exchange a half-dozen letters. Ann begins to include notes from Lisa, who is also eager to meet the man. Ann keeps trying to entice him to come visit them in Colorado. He resists: He says he has to work and doesn't have vacation time. As fall settles in, he becomes worried about the weather. He doesn't want to end up stranded on a desolate patch of I-70.

Ann and the man eventually begin talking on the phone. By November, she convinces him to make the trip. "I've got some vacation," he tells her, though his tone is not especially enthusiastic. He tells her he wants to stay with her, but Ann declines: She doesn't know him that well--despite the fact that she is willing to have him bed her own preteen daughter.

Around Thanksgiving, he drives to Colorado. He meets Ann outside a restaurant in Arvada. They chitchat for around twenty minutes. He's trying to bond with her, start some kind of relationship.

They go inside for a cup of coffee. The place is packed. He doesn't mention Lisa, and Ann tries to spark his interest. "She's so excited to meet you," she says. Finally, he agrees to see the young girl. As the two pay up and leave the restaurant, local law-enforcement officers converge and arrest him for attempted sexual assault on a child.

He bonds out in January. His attorney, Darren Cantor, tries to persuade the judge on the case to return the guy to Kansas until his trial. The judge says no. Cantor is also unable to get him entered into a community corrections program. So, as he awaits trial in Jefferson County, the man must find a job and apartment here and pay for treatment and an ankle bracelet that will monitor his whereabouts. He knows no one in the whole state. But here he remains until October 1998, when he goes to trial.

At trial, Cantor's client is sentenced to fifteen months. Cantor admits that people may see his client as a "pretty sick dude." But he has doubts about the elaborate police sting that brought him to the Centennial State. "What happens when he comes to Colorado and he decides to stop off at an elementary school instead?"

Meet Ann: Detective Walt Parsons.
From his cubicle at the Arvada Police Department, Parsons runs a program that is putting his small suburban police force on the national law-enforcement map.

He catches pedophiles, but truth be told, Parsons would just as soon not talk about it, an act he likens to the "federal government releasing missle codes." Parsons says one man he was trying to bring to Colorado from Wyoming heard a story about police posing as kids to catch child molesters, and he turned back north.

Since 1987, Arvada detectives have been going after pedophiles in a way that few--if any--local law-enforcement agencies have tried. They place ads that suggest an interest in children in sexually explicit magazines, then wait for the potential suspects to come calling.

And they do. They call, they write letters and then--at the encouragement of the police--they come to Colorado expecting to meet and have sex with kids. At that point, the cops recruit a female detective to play Ann; after the men agree to rendezvous with the children, they are arrested.

The sting operations have brought more than a dozen suspects to Arvada.
The efforts began after Parsons and his former superior attended an Oklahoma City conference on crimes against children. One seminar, presented by a Los Angeles detective and a U. S. postal inspector, urged police officials to hunt pedophiles more aggressively. Impressed, Parsons and his boss decided to start a program. Now, twelve years later, he gives training seminars across the state and across the country. Last week, he left to conduct seminars in Russia.

"With the things Walt has done and the high-profile cases we've had, hopefully our reputation alongside his name has gained us some notoriety," says deputy chief Ted Mink, though he adds that the department doesn't do its work for the sake of notoriety.

Mink says that in recent years, it has not been uncommon for police agencies from across the U.S. to call and ask the APD for advice--but that as more agencies attempt to create similar programs, their reliance on Arvada is decreasing.

Still, few programs across the country track down pedophiles through publications--which is essentially tracking them through the mail. More common are programs that focus solely on the Internet: Police will masquerade as children in chat rooms and see what kind of predatory interest they receive.

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