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Unit Dedicated To Catching Child Predators Back In Business

By Jennifer Brice

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)- A highly successful program designed to protect kids and bust online predators is back. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office calls it "Cheezo" for child sex offender internet investigations unit.

The Cheezo unit not only goes into schools and talks to kids about cyber and phone safety, but the investigative unit spends time online and in chat rooms waiting for predators to approach them, thinking they are talking to underage kids.

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The three Jefferson County District Attorney investigators that comprise the Cheezo unit are now sworn Deputies for the Sheriff's Office. It is more than just a uniform and badge change. That is how Jefferson County children will continue to be protected from predators after the Cheezo unit was shut down in December 2016.

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Sergeant Mike Harris runs the unit.

"When I got the news that they were shutting down my unit., it was very hard to swallow," he says. "Knowing that there would be no enforcement, to train a child or to catch these guys before they get to a real child."

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The unit shut down after a defense attorney, whose client was caught by Cheezo for exploiting a child, sent a letter to the Attorney Regulation Council. He raised ethical concerns saying attorneys and their staff were misrepresenting themselves.

District Attorney Pete Weir asked the Jeffco Sheriff's Office to takeover.

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"For all the predators out there thinking they had a free reign or shot at our kids. You couldn't be more wrong," says Weir.

Sheriff Jeff Shrader says one of the people arrested and convicted by the Cheezo unit was a man they found with a duffle bag, thinking he was meeting a child. He knew it was critical to keep the unit alive.

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"In that (suspect's) duffle bag were items like zip ties, duct tape, rope, cutting implements and sex toys to meet who he thought was a 14-year-old girl," says Shrader. "When Pete Weir reached out to me, he said, 'This is a demand that must be attacked.'"

The Cheezo unit has successfully arrested more than 900 pedophiles.

Jennifer Brice is a reporter with CBS4 focusing on crime and courts. Follow her on Facebook or on Twitter @CBS4Jenn.

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