CPSO identifies nearly 100 alleged child abusers, helps over 100 victims in two years

Published 11:39 am Wednesday, January 31, 2024

VIDALIA, La. — Through efforts at Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office’s Community Justice Center in Ferriday, the sheriff’s office has not only charged nearly 100 alleged child predators in two years but has assisted more than 100 abuse victims in the same length of time, officials said.

Sheriff David Hedrick

The Cyber Crime Unit, located inside the justice center, seeks out criminals online using various social media apps.

Undercover officers create profiles and fish for perpetrators who are led to believe they are chatting with a young child. Once the suspects are arrested, the officers seize mobile phones and computers and use sophisticated technology to crack encryption, unlock devices and obtain evidence.

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“In two years, we’ve had 94 arrests and 96 child predators that have been identified and charged,” said Detective Stephen Lipscomb of CPSO’s Cyber Crime Investigations Unit.

Stephen Lipscomb

In the same time period, “We have assisted 118 victims,” added Brandy Spears, the department’s Victim Advocate.

These victims include both adults and children who’ve endured some form of abuse, whether it’s sexual assault, human trafficking or domestic violence. They’ve all either lived in Concordia Parish or the crime they were a victim of happened in the parish.

CPSO’s Criminal Justice Center, centrally located at 27797 Highway 15, in Ferriday, houses a unique living-room-type area called Hope’s Space, a name inspired by one of the victims.

There, Spears said CPSO has helped people by providing them with an array of resources from counseling to legal aid.

The assistance provided varies case by case. Many require immediate relocation to a safe environment. Others need education and counseling services to become self-sufficient after relying on their abusers for most of their lives.

“We can’t fulfill every need that they have, but we certainly have grown our resources to where we have a lot more options available,” Spears said.

Brandy Spears

Of 186 people who have come to Hope’s Space, 25 have received counseling and 55 have received some form of legal help, such as information regarding protective orders, updates on cases, divorces, custody arrangements and property settlements.

The department has placed eight of its domestic victims in a shelter and provided emergency housing, such as a hotel room to several victims, Spears said.

The department also focuses on victims’ education, providing an avenue to take classes and obtain a high school diploma or GED, she said. Through a collaboration with the Childs Advocacy Center, children no longer need to schedule an appointment in Alexandria for investigative interviews. A CAC member will come to Hope’s Space to conduct interviews each month.

Through the center, many victims have been delivered from terrible situations.

In one extreme case, an 11-year-old in the parish had been raped and became pregnant by her stepfather. When officers went to the home, they found a dead rodent in the freezer and pet feces on the floor.

In another instance, the sheriff’s office conducted a welfare check on a child who had missed school. They found the child living in “deplorable conditions,” with adults using drugs “right there in front of the child,” Spears said.

“That’s a situation that we were able to get her out of immediately,” she added.

Concordia Parish is not unique when it comes to the large number of child predators.

“The average person has absolutely no clue how many child predators are out there,” Lipscomb said. “They come in all shapes and sizes. It can be preachers. It doesn’t matter.”

Chief Deputy Fred Middleton added, “Over the past two years that we have really been proactive and aggressive with predators, people have seen that on our page because we make it a point to put it out there.”

Chief Fred Middleton

Middleton said because of the proactive approach, more victims have been willing to come forward and identify abusers.

In one case, a child came forward after the sheriff’s office gave presentations about human trafficking at the schools in the parish. The one child led investigators to an arrest of someone with five known victims, Lipscomb said.

Larry Smith had been accused of crimes dating back to 1972. Three victims, two of whom did not know one another, all had similar stories, Lipscomb said.

“Though the statute of limitations was up on that one, we were able to charge him with the three different victims,” he said. “They told their family members about this when it occurred 20 years ago, but nothing was done about it.”

Spears said the center is looking for more ways to expand resources for victims and is interested in partnerships with non-profits and community partners.

The center will accept donations and gift cards for the victims’ food, gas or emergency housing.

Sheriff David Hedrick said his department is more proactive today than when he came to work as an officer in 1992.

“You would usually make the parties go their separate ways … thinking that that was OK to separate domestic violence victims and leave them in the area with the perpetrators not knowing what would happen when you left,” Hedrick said. “What this office has done is we’ve taken it a step further. We give the (victim) an avenue of escape and protection, which was not done back then. … When we used to leave back in the day, they went right back to fighting again. The woman didn’t call back because she knew what we were going to do. No one really went to jail unless we saw blood. What I like about this place is it gives them a different outlet.

“I’m just so proud of the people here and the work they do.”

Not every case is a criminal one, added Lipscomb. However, no one will ever be penalized for calling the sheriff’s department for help.

“If we get just a smidgen of information, it’s going to be investigated until it can’t be investigated anymore,” he said. “We’re going to dig up every single thing that we can. If a crime has happened, we’re going to arrest someone for it.”

For anyone who needs to report a crime or is in need of emergency assistance themselves, call 911 or submit a tip through the CPSO mobile app.