Prosecutor cracks down on 'citizen sting' operations

Kim Dunlap, Kokomo Tribune, Ind.
·2 min read

Apr. 7—The Howard County Prosecutor's Office issued a stern warning this week toward members of the community who choose to conduct their own investigations against suspected online predators without the actual support of law enforcement.

In a lengthy media release sent out Tuesday, Howard County Prosecutor Mark McCann provided examples of how these independent investigations are conducted, noting that some citizens pretend to be minors in order to lure and then confront suspected online predators.

They then live stream those interactions across social media, he noted.

But McCann then went on to state that those types of investigations performed by social media "vigilante" groups can not only be dangerous, but they can even be a hindrance to law enforcement.

"These citizen sting operations could lead to injury or death to the person attempting to expose a suspected predator, the person they are confronting or innocent bystanders," McCann said in the release. "Confrontations of this nature are capable of turning violent quickly.

"Vigilantes also open themselves up to potential lawsuits for libel and slander should the person they are going after decide to bring a lawsuit," he added. " ... When citizens take matters into their own hands, it can usually be harmful to a successful prosecution, leading to someone who may well have been guilty walking free."

So instead of confronting suspected online predators head-on, McCann said simply to let law enforcement officers do their jobs.

"If a resident has a reason to suspect someone may be attempting to lure minors online, please pass that information along to local law enforcement," McCann said, "who can than conduct a legal investigation.

"Law enforcement officials are the only ones qualified to conduct these kinds of investigations," McCann continued. "Having gone through extensive training, these officials know the right techniques in collecting and preserving the digital evidence that is necessary to prosecute these kinds of cases."

If you know of a situation involving a suspected online predator, you can contact the Kokomo Police Department Hotline at 765-456-7017 or the Howard County Sheriff's Office Tip Line at 765-614-3372. You can also call Central Indiana Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-262-TIPS.