Dixie State Police officers join task force targeting 13 alleged online child sexual predators

Blair Barfuss, chief of police at Dixie State University, walking on campus, June 13, 2018 | File photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Two Dixie State University Police Department officers have teamed up with the national Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced Monday that the ICAC Task Force had arrested 13 individuals in Utah County. The arrests come after the ICAC began an operation targeting child sexual predators.

The investigation found the men involved were primarily interested in boys and girls from 11-13 years old and are considered “the most dangerous and aggressive child predators” because they exhibited behavior that suggests they planned to engage in sexual activity with minors, according to a statement from the Utah Attorney General’s office.

ICAC officers from the Provo Police Department, Orem Police Department, Utah County Sheriff’s Office, Uintah County Sheriff’s Office, Dixie State University Police, Davis County Attorney, and Adult Probation and Parole participated in the operation.

Dixie State Police Chief Blair Barfuss said he and Sgt. Ron Bridge worked with the ICAC to monitor online chat rooms and go undercover in the chat rooms as well. Barfuss and Bridge were also a part of the arrest team that apprehended the men in Utah County.

Blair Barfuss, chief of police at Dixie State University, in his office on June 13, 2018 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

Barfuss worked with the ICAC for five years before becoming the police chief at Dixie State, and Bridge has worked with ICAC for over 10 years. The pair met each other through their work within the task force. Joining the ICAC is by invitation only and requires a lot of training and experience, Barfuss said.

“Because Bridge and I were both previously trained and experienced and handled dozens if not hundreds of cases, they reached out to us and asked if we would be interested in helping them since we both moved to St. George,” he said.

Barfuss and Bridge signed a memorandum of understanding with the ICAC last month and have helped the task force in finding and apprehending criminals who use the internet to abuse children. The memorandum that Barfuss and Bridge signed secured grant money through the task force that pays the two men for the work they do with ICAC.

ICAC does not have a limitation or expectation for its officers, Barfuss said; it just wants the officers’ assistance whenever possible. He said he works about five hours each week for the ICAC on top of his 40 hours each week working for Dixie State, but the time he spends working for ICAC varies case by case.

“If you get a critical, important case, we’re going to drop everything and go work it if a child is being exploited,” he said.

2017 File photo of patrol vehicle in front of the Dixie State University Campus Police department, Jan. 28, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Barfuss said the experience he has obtained through working with the ICAC has impacted how he works with Dixie State. Barfuss and Bridge have the know-how to investigate electronic threats or crimes committed using cellphones or through social media because of their work with the ICAC, he said, adding that he also knows how to effectively use local resources, like the Digital Forensics Crime Lab at Dixie State.

“There’s a lot of experience and knowledge that the university gains because of those prior experiences,” Barfuss said.

He also said the ICAC has given him a “great working relationship” with the Attorney General’s Office, which allows the campus police department a strong and familiar connection if the two offices ever need to partner. Barfuss said the department appreciates the relationship and “enjoys the professional opportunities to work with the AG’s ICAC task force.”

The ICAC education specialist urges parents to remind their children to never meet with strangers they have spoken with on the internet, especially as school is getting out for the summer. The specialist also asks parents to keep up to date with all of the latest apps and offers parents a list of potential apps their children might be using.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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