SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Catching people in the act.
An online group in the Ozarks is working to capture potential predators on camera.
Last night, we introduced you to “417 Predator Hunters” and explained how members set up fake dating profiles to confront people who show up to meet someone who they believe is underage.
“In the past, we have tried working with law enforcement,” Dani said.
Major Vance Holland with the Springfield Police Department says their operation may not help officers.
“If we are actively working a case, and they are actively working the potentially same subject, it could create some deconfliction problems,” Holland said. “It could definitely hamper a case — an active case that we are already working.”
Dani says they have been told by the Greene County Sheriff’s office not to call the police anymore, but she says some departments are willing to cooperate with them.
“They gave us a couple of suggestions on things they could use, things they couldn’t use,” Dani said. “We follow a pretty strict set of guidelines that way if these cases do go to court, they aren’t compromised.”
They turn things over like chat logs, pictures, or videos.
“The problem is, for a case to be prosecuted, law enforcement needs to be involved from the start,” Holland said. “It needs to be conducted by law enforcement personnel.”
“If their objective is to create a prosecutable case, then that’s typically not going to happen,” Holland said.
But Dani claims that police have gone with them before and that some of their exposures have led to arrests. Some of the people in their videos do have charges for sex crimes.
Criminal Defense Attorney Dee Wampler says this group needs to let the police do their work.
“We have a cybercrimes task force office here in Springfield and they do a really good job,” Wampler said. “If it’s in law enforcement, they know how to do it. They do it right. They take it to the prosecutor, they file charges, it goes before the court.”
As a former prosecutor, Wampler says he’d feel more confident about winning a case if the vigilante technique wasn’t at play.
“I would argue that we have some good citizens that are trying to do the right thing,” Wampler said. “It would be a much better case if it was handled by law enforcement. I just go back to that.”
Dani and 417 Predator Hunters say it’s a satisfying feeling helping protect kids in ways that police can’t, but there is another side to this.
I took a call today from the brother of someone who was exposed on one of their videos. He says his brother is autistic, with the mindset of a child in many ways.
He says being chased through a parking lot on video changed his brother’s life forever. He understands that there could be some good to come of their work, but he hopes they consider the effect they have on people’s lives by being quote “uninformed.”
To watch Part One of this story, click here.