Apr. 20—Last week, members of some 17 law enforcement agencies from across the Central Valley region arrested nearly 100 individuals on a variety of offenses as part of a joint operation targeting sex crimes.
Lodi Police Department was one of those agencies involved in the operation, and on Friday afternoon, three detectives helped arrest two Alameda County men who thought they were meeting a minor in Lathrop.
Detective Melita Kautz said it was the first time being part of the operation typically headed up by the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office and Lathrop Police Department.
"We were looking to expand our knowledge in this area," Kautz said. "So far it's been very rewarding. It's nice to learn new things that can help the public and help our communities feel safer.
The operation, dubbed "Operation More Than Adequate," divided more than 100 officers into teams of four, each with a different focus.
One team targeted child predators, another focused on sex trafficking, another sought out pimps and pandering offenders, and a fourth conducted sex offender registry checks.
Each team took 10-hour shifts during the 24-hour, five-day operation.
On Saturday, the Sheriff's Office reported that a total of 94 individuals had been arrested or cited during the operation, including 23 child sexual predators.
Two arrests or citations were for human trafficking, four were for pimping or pandering, 16 were for prostitution, and 19 were for solicitation.
Six others were arrested or cited for possessing a firearm, four were for traffic violations, and 18 were out-of -compliance sex offenders, the Sheriff's Office said.
The numbers were more than doubled compared to previous operations conducted, the Sheriff's Office said.
"We're using various different applications and web services, things like that, putting relatively innocuous posts out there or responding to posts already there, starting up conversations," Deputy Nick Goucher, spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, said.
"Generally suspects will turn conversation in a sexual direction, in which point our cop will reveal they're almost 14 years old or something like that," he said. "Many times, the people who aren't looking to hook up with a kid will bounce the conversation, but other times they will continue the conversation, and it will escalate. If they want to meet up, that's when we arrange a meet and undercover units will be in the area and we'll make an arrest."
A lot of those arrested this week were from outside San Joaquin County, with many from Stanislaus. A couple have been men on business trips from Virginia and Texas, Goucher said.
At 2:30 p.m., units moved to arrest a Livermore man who thought he was meeting a 13-year-old girl at a house in Lathrop. Upon arrival, officers found condoms, lubrication and alcohol in the passenger seat of the man's vehicle.
As soon as they had made the arrest, they received word another man contacted during the operation was arriving in the area to meet with a minor.
This second man drove from Fremont, and while there were no sexually-related items in his vehicle, deputies said his cell phone was a match for someone with whom they were communicating during the operation.
By 4 p.m. Friday, a total of 70 people had been arrested. Of those, 20 were people looking to have sex with a child.
Two of the arrests were for human trafficking, Goucher said, and teams focused on that aspect will have counselors with them to provide support and services to victims immediately.
Prior to Friday's arrest, Kautz said her team had nabbed two people during the week. Kautz said the department is looking into conducting its own operation in the future.
"It's been a lot of time on the phone reaching out to people," she said. "It feels like I've talked to 50 people. It definitely takes a toll on you and wears you down a bit."
Lathrop chief Ryan Biedermann said trying to snare child sex offenders can be taxing, as many of the people officers and detectives communicate with will send disturbing text messages or unsolicited graphic images.
Then sometimes waiting for a suspected offender to arrive at the agreed upon meeting place can take a lot of time. Often times, an offender will say they're willing to meet, but don't show up.
Others provide a description of the vehicle and arrive in a different one, or park blocks away and walk to the meeting site, making positive identification difficult.
"It's a lot of work," Biedermann said. "This is probably two or three months of planning. There's a lot of moving parts. You've got 15-plus agencies, and we all do things kind of differently, so we all have to get on the same page. But it's been working pretty well."