LANSING, Mich. — Prosecutors say the Lansing police officer arrested last week was online looking for sex from an underage girl.
In fact, Benjamin Fielder was talking to another police officer working a sex sting operation. It's one of the tactics law enforcement uses to get online predators off the streets…
As of Tuesday, Fielder is no longer an officer with the Lansing Police Department. The 30-year-old resigned not even two weeks after being charged with accosting a child for immoral purposes and child sexually abusive activity as the result of a sting handled by the Shiawassee Human Oppression Team.
“Whether or not he was a police officer or not, he fell through the cracks, and that obviously doesn’t look good on law enforcement in general, but I can tell you that’s a rarity,” said Keith Hansen, a detective lieutenant with the Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Office.
Hansen is the man in charge of the sting operation, which led to charges against four other men. His office has conducted three of these operations since October 2020, resulting in 13 arrests.
“From October of 2020, there were four arrested, from May 2021 there were four and in August 2021 there were five,” he said.
The operation is typically a joint effort between the Shiawassee Sheriff’s Office and law enforcement agencies in Genesee County.
Each suspect is usually under the impression that they're chatting with an underage teen, but in reality, a law enforcement officer is on the other end of that conversation.
“Criminals out there they target children of underage quite frankly because they’re naive,” Hansen said. So, if you’re a pedophile, what easier way is to get on social media apps and try and target young kids by saying hello and seeing where it leads from there.”
“Child sexual abuse, child physical abuse is very common, unfortunately,” said Alex Brace, executive director at the Small Talk Children’s Advocacy Center. “It’s something that extends beyond your social-economic status, gender identity, and race. This is a problem that really impacts everyone.”
Brace said sexual predatory behavior online and in person, is growing, The Small Talk Children’s Advocacy Center knows firsthand about the emotions victims feel after experiencing abuse.
“We work with kids sexually and physically abused,” Brace said. “So any time that happens, Ingham or Eaton counties will arrange for an interview to be done at our space. So the victims can share their story get their statement on the record and start the child abuse investigative process. We also prove free counseling for those kids.”
Brace said to protect your kid from inappropriate behavior on social media, you should constantly talk to them about internet safety, explain what is and is not considered an appropriate conversation, and monitor their devices.
The app Bark was created back in 2015 and it allows parents to monitor what’s happening on their kids' smartphones and computers. The app is currently installed on around 5.6 million devices nationwide.
“Bark uses artificial intelligence to scan for issues like inappropriate pictures, conversations, etc,” said Bark Chief Parenting Officer Titania Jordan. “From there, it sends a notification to the parents phone about this behavior and also provides steps on how to handle this inappropriate behavior.”
Regardless of what method is used to protect kids while online, Hansen said, it's important to work with law enforcement to get more predators off the streets.
“A predator is a predator,” Hansen said. “Some act good, but our goal is to work hard to protect the youth and keep everyone safe.”