TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — A sting in New Jersey resulted in the arrests of 31 alleged sexual predators. The arrests were part of what’s called Operation 24/7.
It was a collaborative effort by law enforcement to address the spike in threats to children from online predators during the coronavirus pandemic.READ MORE: COVID-19 Transmission Rates Move Into Substantial Range Across Majority Of Tri-State Region
The occupations of the accused included a train operator, a postal service carrier, a skating rink employee, an army reserve officer — extra concerning because these are professions with plenty of public contact.
Of the 31 men arrested and charged in Operation 24/7 with sexually exploiting children online, two of the men are charged with sexually assaulting or attempting to sexually assault children.
Two more are charged with manufacturing child sexual abuse material.
The remaining 27 are charged with possession and/or distribution of child sexual abuse material, including videos depicting child rape.
“When you think of that predator, you think of the subject lurking around a playground with a bag of candy and a puppy. It is different in 2021, they are lurking online,” New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan said.
The three-month operation uncovered the accused utilizing various gaming forums and social media apps to contact children.READ MORE: 'Had A Smile A Mile Wide': Family Remembers 8-Year-Old Girl Killed In Westville Crash That Left 3 Others Dead
“Young children should not have their devices in their bedrooms at night, so create a family charging station where all mobile devices are stored before bedtime,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said.
Grewal shared guidance for families, including that parents should supervise online activity, review games and apps, and look out for potential signs of abuse.
“Children should be wary of interacting with strangers online just as they would in real life,” Grewal said.
Licensed clinical psychologist Valerie Braunstein adds that some adult predators may easily come off as another child online.
“Typically, they are at the emotional level or developmental level as the child,” Braunstein said.
She says the key for parents is to keep tabs and start an ongoing dialogue about the dangers of chatting with strangers online.
The isolation and increased use of the internet during COVID-19 appears to have made children more vulnerable.MORE NEWS: National Night Out Aims To Improve Police-Community Relations During Violent Year In Philadelphia
Tips to the New Jersey Internet Crimes Task Force and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Task Force have increased 39% in 2021 from 2019.