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Fishers police to host online safety forum to help keep kids safe from predators

A hand resting on a laptop keyboard. (WISH Photo)

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) — An online safety forum hosted by Fishers police comes as the Hamilton County Metro Child Exploitation Task Force reports a rise in crimes like child exploitation.

The task force is a team made up of investigators in Carmel, Fishers, Westfield, Noblesville, the Hamilton County and Madison County sheriff’s departments, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Fishers Police Chief Ed Gebhart says more than 250 reports of child exploitation were turned over to the task force in 2021. Those cases have risen nationally since the start of the pandemic, according to Gebhart.

“I think all of us can come together on this particular night to talk about how to keep our kids safe and what it is we’re doing behind this door that no one’s allowed to go behind this door because of the type of work they do,” Gebhart said.

The virtual information session is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 23 at 8 p.m. It can also be livestreamed through the Fishers Police Department Facebook page.

Gebhart says the information will be worthwhile for even the most aware parents, adding that the warning signs of online child exploitation can be easy to miss.

“You think of Snapchat and you think of Facebook, but my daughter herself, someone had reached out to her through a game and tried to talk to her. So, here I am thinking I’m on top of it and right there it’s in my own house,” Gebhart said.

The task force has played a role in major federal cases, including one from 2018 where a 37- year-old Texas man pretended to be a 15-year-old boy to get sexual videos and pictures from an underage girl in Indiana.

Gebhart says that while the goal is always more arrests, it’s not the only focus.

“[The task force is] more addicted to saving people and that’s the number they track, even more than the arrest numbers, because there are so many victims behind each one of those arrests,” Gebhart said.