For LAPD investigators, cases involving child victims can be hard to shake

Shrouded by darkness in the early dawn, the heavily armored investigators marched toward the Mid-City apartment on St. Elmo Street. One of the officers strode straight to a door on the first floor and banged on it, yelling in Spanish for it to be opened.

On the other side, a desperate young man was stuffing an iPad with 80 downloaded images of child pornography into the cushions of a couch, a detective would say later.

Within moments, 19-year-old Abraham Escoto, his father and uncle were standing outside. The lanky young man with disheveled hair had only recently moved to Los Angeles from Mexico to live with his father.

Now he was facing accusations that he had traded child porn over the Internet with someone in Russia.

Escoto told the investigators standing around him that he would never touch a child.

The Los Angeles Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit serves about 300 warrants each year in pursuit of child pornography suspects. In a high-rise building in Long Beach, 11 officers review an average of 350 child pornography cases a month.

The unit is a byproduct of an age in which almost everything can be shared electronically, whether on social media or in dark, digital back alleys. Detectives say many teens share nude photographs and videos, unwittingly contributing to a web of material that is distributed as child pornography. There are apps that essentially allow adults to pretend they are children, investigators say.

Whether child porn is more prevalent now than it used to be is an open question. But officials say there are now many more ways to acquire and circulate in this digital world — and that’s where the unit comes in.

Team members have found pornographic images of children as young as 9 months old. They have arrested suspects in tony neighborhoods and roach-infested motels, said Det. Gilbert Escontrias. They have arrested paramedics, teachers, police officers and city attorneys.

They comb through hundreds of tips from other LAPD officers and law enforcement agencies and the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children.

The center has reviewed more than 132 million child pornography images since it was created in 2002.

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