McCollum priority: Internet predators

Published January 12, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - New Attorney General Bill McCollum says stemming Internet crimes against children is his top priority, and he wants a tenfold increase in the people assigned to the problem.

The Attorney General's Office now has five people assigned to those crimes, working out of a Jacksonville office. McCollum is seeking $4.2-million to expand the program to 50 employees, with investigators around the state.

He says he has full support from Gov. Charlie Crist, who set up the Internet crimes against children unit when he was attorney general.

"I know it's a dramatic increase, but it's very needed," McCollum said. He said the five-person team made 34 arrests last year.

Most of the positions would be for undercover officers who will "go on the Internet and ferret out the people who would attack our children before they do," McCollum said. "Some of this is child pornography; a lot of this is people who are going out to lure kids."

McCollum met with reporters in an office with moving boxes stacked on furniture and framed photos and certificates waiting to be hung. He said he still has to hire some key staff members.

He said details on what he plans to do in other areas of concern - such as gang violence, crimes against the elderly, identity theft and the clemency backlog - are being worked out.

He said he will continue Crist's focus on consumer issues.

"It's a high priority," McCollum said. "If you have anticompetitive, or fraudulent, or unfair and deceptive trade practices, they're going to be just as highly addressed or more so in this administration as they were in the previous one."

He does not see eye to eye with Crist on restoring felons' voting rights once they have served their sentences. Crist has indicated he favors automatic restoration of rights once a sentence is complete. McCollum said there are certain felons who shouldn't be included.

"I think there are selective people who ought to get their rights restored. The current process is cumbersome. It's not working well. It clearly needs to be improved," McCollum said. "I don't think it should be canned. I think that violent criminals, and for some of the people who are sexual predators and others, automatic restoration is wrong."