- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2006

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales wants federal and local officials to adopt a “national, zero-tolerance attitude” toward pedophiles and other sexual predators to fully utilize resources for arrests and obtaining toughest penalties.

“We already share a revulsion for what these criminals do to our children,” Mr. Gonzales told the National Conference of State Legislatures during a videoconference Friday. “But … we need to move our country past revulsion, on to determination fueled by outrage, and finally on to action by parents, community organizations, legislators and law enforcement.”

Mr. Gonzales proposed a three-point plan to get pedophiles and predators off the streets, keep them behind bars, and to raise awareness and teach prevention. He said prosecutors need to be aggressive in bringing cases and law- enforcement officers have to discipline themselves so that no lead will ever be passed along to other officials without some kind of follow-up and action.

“If there is evidence that a child has been hurt, I want to see an arrest, a thorough investigation, and a merciless prosecution if we have the evidence,” he said, challenging the lawmakers to criminalize as a felony all child-pornography offenses, adopt harsher sentences and mandatory minimums, and set the definition of a “child” at 18 years.

He said that as leaders, they have the power to improve investigations by reviewing their states’ computer forensic capabilities and ensuring they are up to speed in dealing with the criminals who target children, as well as other offenders who use the Internet to facilitate their crimes.

“We cannot allow ourselves to be ‘outgunned’ by criminals whose knowledge of the Internet and computers exceeds our own,” he said.

He also said the lawmakers had to mandate “stiff state-level penalties” and be willing to turn cases over to the federal government if federal law would put a pedophile behind bars longer.

But he said in order for prosecutors to have the tools they need, there must be strong laws at both the federal and state level, adding that state and local prosecutors far outnumber those at the federal level, and they must be empowered to fully join in the fight.

“As a former state government official myself, I can assure you that nobody is more willing than I am to acknowledge that our great national experiment in democracy and federalism requires us to celebrate our diversity of laws,” he said. “But there are some things I think we can agree on, including that perpetrators of these vile crimes should face some minimum sentence.”

Mr. Gonzales said the Justice Department is determined to step up with funding and assistance to equip law enforcement with all the knowledge it needs so it can work cases.

He also said efforts have to be made to ensure that communities can share information on those who target children, adding that because sexual predators “gladly cross state lines to achieve their goals; we must cooperate across those lines to achieve ours.”

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