(WLAX/WEUX) – For 15 years, a Coulee Region task force has protected children from online predators.

In 1999, the state of Wisconsin established a task force to protect children from online predators.

Law enforcement agencies in the Coulee Region followed suit in 2006, forming a joint task force to combat internet crimes against children.

“Our main goal is to keep kids in this community safe from predators that are living in this community.”

Holmen police investigator Crystal Nordby says the task force was created to provide first-hand support to the victims of these crimes.

“Prior to our task force being formed, we would refer these cases off to state agents, and they were just getting overwhelmed, so we needed to be more proactive and start handling things in our area.”

Nordby and La Crosse police investigator Andrew Rosenow are part of the effort to catch predators before they can do any harm to children in the community.

“Myself and several of us work undercover, posing as either a 15, 14-year-old child, either a girl or a boy.”

“We want them to come after us versus our real kids, and we know that if they are chatting and communicating with us, they are definitely communicating with real kids.”

Rosenow says it can be difficult keeping up with the ever-changing social media landscape, which is why assistance is needed from those directly interacting with children.

“We rely a lot on our school resource officers that hear and see things, almost on a daily basis in our high schools and our middle schools, on what the new, latest trends are.”

Another challenge is understanding the different available apps, but Nordby believes there aren’t any hard and fast rules on which to avoid.

“There were times where we would say oh my gosh, have your kids stay away from this app or that app, but we have learned that kids go anywhere on the internet, and predators go anywhere on the internet, so know the dangers and the pros and cons of the different apps, like what they can and can’t do and what you should be careful of, but to be honest, kids are everywhere.”

Rosenow says the best way parents can protect their children is by paying attention to what they’re doing.

“Talk to your children, ask them who they’re communicating with, ask them who they’re going to hang out with, who they’re meeting, because that’s how it starts.”

Catching online predators requires significant time and effort from the internet crimes against children task force and is a problem that isn’t expected to be solved anytime soon.

“We are never going to take and eliminate this type of crime, all we can do is do everything within our power to make it a little bit safer community.”

Rosenow says investigations are assisted through grants that are provided by the federal government.

In La Crosse, Alex Loroff,