In the 16 years Jim Holler spent as police chief in Liberty Township in Adams County, Pa., he saw and heard about several terrible cases involving sexual assault against minors.
Spurred by the increasing numbers in those types of crimes, Holler became heavily involved in an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which aimed to take a proactive approach to catching potential predators before they had the chance to harm children in the community.
On Monday, Holler spoke to students and parents at Tyler Consolidated High School's meet the team festivities, using his platform to both encourage parents and warn them about potential threats.
Jim Holler, former police chief in Adams County, Pa., speaks Monday during Tyler Consolidated High School’s meet the team event. Holler warned parents of the dangers of Internet and other child predators. (Photo by J.W. Johnson Jr.)
"It is so exciting to see you being a part of your child's life," he told the crowd. "It isn't just about coming to the games and practices, they need to know they can come talk to us."
Holler said high profile sexual assault cases, such as that of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State, have helped push the issues to the forefront of the public discussion. However, he said it is important to remember there are individuals like Sandusky in every community across the country.
"The reality is there are hundreds of thousands of people like him," he said. "You never know who it could be, and the commonality is that often they are people that we trust."
Keeping an open line of communication with children is important, Holler told the gathered parents. Additionally, he said it also means having discussions about potential problems, including who their children are speaking with online and on the phone, and to make sure they are acting appropriately.
"If you provide your child a cell phone, it is your obligation in my view to look at it and make sure they aren't doing things like sending pictures that could come back to haunt them," he said.
Holler also told of his experiences working undercover in online chat-rooms, where he posed as a 13-year-old girl to bait potential predators. He said he created an intricate back story to answer the questions frequently asked by predators, earning their trust through conversations.
"I was a magnet to these molesters," he said. "They know more about our children than we do a lot of times."
Holler stressed the importance of looking for warning signs and not waiting to start a dialogue with the children.
"Do whatever it takes to start communicating," he said. "We don't want anything bad to happen to them."