- Associated Press - Monday, July 28, 2014

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - A man in his 50s wanted to get detective Bryan Montgomery pregnant.

They’d flirted online. The man sent roses, delivered to a local school. He eventually traveled from Keithville, south of Shreveport, to Springhill, north of Shreveport, for a romantic weekend with his cyber sweetheart, bringing his approving 81-year-old parents along.

That’s when the fantasy ended.

Montgomery, who investigates sex crimes as part of his job at the Springhill Police Department, arrested the man, who thought he had been chatting with a 13-year-old girl.

To string along suspected sex offenders, Montgomery carries out intimate conversations with them - sometimes lasting a year - while posing as a juvenile on social media. Pictures of child pornography, and of men exposing themselves, pop up in this kind of work.

The job brings psychological stress, Montgomery says.

“After a time of seeing a 2-year-old being sexually abused, it gets to you,” he said. A fishing trip with a friend, or talking with a pastor, he says, takes the edge off.

Like some undercover officers whose work is online, Montgomery undergoes a yearly psychological evaluation. But researchers who study law enforcement and mental health argue more needs to be done to help officers process the trauma they experience.

“These people need to be psychologically taken care of in a special way because their job is different than going out and writing traffic tickets and answering complaints,” said John Violanti, a University of Buffalo epidemiology research professor who was a New York state trooper for 23 years.

He found that more than one-quarter of the officers in the Buffalo (N.Y.) Police Department had metabolic syndrome, a risk factor for heart disease. That’s found in only 18.7 percent of other workers. He also found the officers’ suicide rate was 53 percent higher than that of the general public. Online undercover officers weren’t the focus of these reports, but they underline the stress linked to law enforcement.

Officers should be screened for past sexual victimization or trauma and undercover agents should have psychological de-briefings every two or three months, Violanti said.

But these precautions are rare. The Northwest Louisiana Internet Crimes Against Children task force, comprised of about 20 law enforcement agents including Montgomery, doesn’t require regular counseling for its officers.

ICAC members don’t get psychological screening before joining and they’re not asked about prior sexual victimization, said Capt. Shelly Anderson of the Bossier City Marshall’s office. Anderson, coordinator for the local chapter of ICAC, said task force participants can request counseling through the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, which funds ICAC, or their home departments. Many of her colleagues also sit on a similar FBI task force, she said, which provides them with a yearly psychological check-up.

Some undercover agents who participate in the online chats, such as Det. Jared Marshall of the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s office, aren’t required to see counselors at all. His employer offers therapy through company health insurance. When asked about the lack of mandated mental health resources for his force, Sheriff Steve Prator said he recognizes the gap in coverage and is working to fix it.

KNOWING WHEN IS ENOUGH

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