ELKHART, Ind. (CBS NEWSPATH) –“Regardless of their motives, it is the actions that they are taking that I cannot condone.”
The Elkhart County prosecutor is asking online groups to stop trying to confront online predators.
We talked to people who participate in the groups. They say they do it to bring awareness to the fact that there are so many predators online.
The groups create profiles using pictures of adults who look younger and pretend to be kids online, eventually meeting up with the so-called predators and stream it on Facebook Live.
The prosecutor says this is a problem because people in these groups don’t have police training and they need to respect the legal presumption that people are innocent until proven guilty.
Two active members of these groups say they have ground rules— they never initiate a chat, they don’t start down the path of sexual conversations, and they aren’t the ones who ask to meet.
“It’s not like we’re trying to catch them or we are hunting them, these guys are preying on our children and they are setting themselves up,” said Robert Bloom with Bikers Against Predators.
The Elkhart County prosecutor worries that people who do this can be clouded by bias.
“We want to make sure we are doing things by the books,” said Vicki Becker. “We want to make sure we are not violating anyone’s rights and we want to make sure that if individuals are doing these kinds of things that they can be held accountable and that way we can intervene.”
Becker says the groups have caused complications, making it harder for valid law enforcement.
“I can’t be specific because I don’t want to give away the criminal playbook of how to avoid prosecution,” she said.
She worries about confrontations escalating into violence.
“There is always that risk and that is understood from the get-go,” said Hannah Adair, Predator Catchers Incorporated.
But Becker says the ends don’t justify the means
“Shaming someone and embarrassing them might work for a short time, but then they are just going to Move on and be smarter about how they are engaging in their crimes.”
“We are not trying to condemn them or embarrass the crap out of them, what we are trying to do is bring awareness to this whole issue of online child predators,” said Adair.
The prosecutor says they do know of one investigation in Elkhart County that was spurred by action from these online groups. She says if anyone thinks their child may be talking to an online predator to contact police.
The group members said their ultimate goal is to work with prosecutors and law enforcement to help save potential victims.