INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Adults who call their Facebook groups of vigilantes “predator catchers” are pretending to be teens to solicit possible child predators.
The phenomenon has become a problem for police. “We, as an agency, we don’t support what it is that they are doing. We don’t endorse what it is they are doing,” said Capt. Ron Galaviz, chief public information officer for the Indiana State Police.
In the past six months, so-called “predator catcher” Facebook groups in Indiana have pretended to be teen girls on the internet to lure in a Portland, Indiana, police officer and a Lebanon High School band teacher. The teacher was charged with child solicitation, which did not involve a student, authorities said. The police officer has not been charged.
Galaviz said that the Facebook groups “are putting themselves in harm’s way. They are also making it a little bit more difficult, and quite a bit more at times, for law enforcement to do what it is we need to do when it comes to investigating.”
Police say the people entrapped by “predator catcher” groups may not see prosecution. “There are rules of law that are set by precedent, by state law … past court proceedings that dictate how criminal investigations are conducted.”
Police say the investigations of child predators are also much more challenging when law enforcement has to track someone else’s efforts.
“Trying to go back and unwind and rework ourselves through what has already been done is a very significant task and sometimes, again, it is a detriment to whatever investigation that we may be undertaking from that point,” Galaviz said.
Often, these groups will broadcast their confrontations with alleged predators on Facebook Live.
“When you confront somebody with the information that they may already have, you have no idea how they are going to react, what they might already have in their car. It is a very big risk,” Galaviz said.
Police say anyone who believes someone is soliciting something inappropriate from a child should go to authorities immediately and turn over any evidence of the alleged behavior.