CJ Students Get Real Talk on Cybercrime

Sgt. Gary Spurger (l) and Corp. Jeff Lee serve with the Cybercrime Unit at the Harris County Constable 4 Office.
Sgt. Gary Spurger (l) and Corp. Jeff Lee serve with the Cybercrime Unit at the Harris County Constable 4 Office.

The High Tech and Cyber Crime Unit at the Harris County Constable 4 Office arrests about 200 people a year for online child pornography, but the problem is so prevalent on the Internet that they could probably arrest 200 people a day.

Sgt. Gary Spurger and Corporal Jeff Lee, a 1997 SHSU alumnus, are members of the unit and recently participated in "Real Talk w/ CJ," a criminal justice series that allows students to hear from professionals in the field, and "Let’s Talk," an SHSU Honors program that provides small group discussions over dinner with renowned experts.

"It is pretty traumatic stuff," Sgt. Spurger said. "We have learned to watch with the sound off. When you hear the kid’s screams, it will stay with you for days."

Sgt. Spurger once arrested a suspect who literally had millions of photos and videos of child pornography on his computers.

“Each image is a crime scene in itself, and there is a kid being raped," Spurger said.

Spurger also is credited with capturing the first female traveler, an adult woman from North Carolina who came to Texas to have sex with a 14-year-old boy. The boy lived four houses down the block from his home, but he discovered the crime on the Internet.

"The kid was suicidal, and she was telling him it’s okay to commit suicide," Sgt. Spurger said of the suspect.

The Harris County unit was created to catch online sexual predators and other Internet criminals, and it collaborates with many other agencies, including the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Houston Area Child Sexual Exploitation Task Force. The officers often pose as under-aged children on social networking sites and chat rooms and set up sting operations to catch suspects. They also track known images of child sexual assault, also known as child porn images, on the Internet to see who is downloading them.

For Spurger, it is especially rewarding to lock up these criminals.

"There is something honorable about being a police officer," Spurger said. "You go home in the evening, and you feel like you have made a difference."

While many criminal justice students want to go into federal agencies, or large departments with specialized unit, like the Houston Police Department, Spurger urged students to consider small law enforcement departments.

"There is not anything that you are ever going to do that is not going to give you an edge," said Corp. Lee. "Do not rope yourself in and ignore the possibilities. Don’t ignore the smaller departments."

Just two days into his first job, Lee managed to break a house burglary ring, which included nine suspects and 22 burglaries. Ever since, he has been hooked on investigations.

These days, Lee said, technology is at the cutting edge of where law enforcement is going, and it is growing. He specializes in fraud in his unit, where burglars no longer use fences, but rather sites such Craig’s List and e-Bay to sell the proceeds of their crime.

"If you get into law enforcement, try all of it and continue to find your niche," said Spurger. "If you find it, you will thrive."

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