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Police warn of dangers after watchdog group aids arrest of child porn suspect

AlbionPublicSafety.PNG
Police warn of dangers after watchdog group aids arrest of child porn suspect. (WWMT/File)

Catching child predators in the act: one West Michigan group has made it their mission.

Evidence they gathered helped detectives with Albion Public Safety arrest a man Thursday who is accused of obtaining child porn, but police are warning people about tracking down predators on their own.

A group calling itself 517 Child Predator Exposures (CPE) posted a video online of them meeting up with a man they say was talking to one of their members online who was posing as a minor. The video got thousands of views.

They also caught the attention of Albion Public Safety, who arrested the 58-year-old Thursday after searching his home and said child porn was found.

The group is anonymous, but spoke to Newschannel 3 by phone about what happens when a potential predator strikes up conversations with their fake social media accounts.

"Most of them turn sexual and they start sending explicit pictures to us and we basically just go with the flow of their conversation until they are ready to meet," one member said.

Albion Public Safety Detective Justin Reniger has been in contact with the group.

“They have the right objective in mind, but the private citizen groups don't have to abide by the same laws and procedures we do as police," he said.

Reniger said groups like this need to be aware of the risk they are taking.

“When they are meeting these individuals, they don't know who they are meeting and there's a danger there that when they set up these meetings they could be walking into a potentially violent situation," Reniger said.

A 517 CPE member addressed this by saying: "We do take our precautions for safety, because this is a risk we are willing to take if we can save a child."

In addition, police say much of the material gathered by citizens is not usable in court.

"Our concern with groups like this is we need to be notified sooner. We would have liked to have been involved we could have made sure things were done the appropriate way," Reniger said.

Jessi Olivarri, Battle Creek mom, appreciates what the 517 CPE is doing.

"I think it's a great way for them to try and take a proactive approach to stopping that kind of behavior," she said.

Reniger hopes these Facebook videos keep parents alert.

"You don't know who is out there on the internet on social media and so parents just need to be aware," he said.