September 23, 2016 - 8:00 PM
THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - The establishment of Creep Catchers and Creep Hunters in the Southern Interior has led to two high-profile stings in the past month and now the Kamloops chapter wants to see arrests instead of fame.
The president of Kamloops Creep Catchers says his members remain anonymous by using aliases and wearing masks online, so they're not easily recognized in public.
He goes by Joanzee C. Catcher and he says the strained relationship between RCMP and Creep Catchers is on its way to being repaired.
"They reached out to us and we sat down with them, this morning (Sept. 21) actually, to hear what they had to say," Catcher says. "We’re happy with what they approached us with… we’re going forward with working with them, we do want to work with them."
The spokesperson says Creep Catchers has reached out to Kamloops RCMP a few times with no positive outcome, but this is the first time the detachment reached out to them.
RCMP has maintained it does not condone the group's methods of investigating potential online child predators, and Kamloops RCMP Supt. Brad Mueller says the detachment has yet to work with the group.
"We reached out to them… to seek some additional information to further our criminal investigation that we had entered into," Mueller says. "That was the purpose of reaching out to them and they... haven’t been cooperative with us on that."
Catcher says the only thing the group wasn't willing to do for the RCMP was give up their anonymity.
"They need to understand our anonymity is one of the big things, one of our key factors, to how we catch these people. We don’t want our names out there," Catcher says, adding many of the members are well known in the city.
Catcher says the Kamloops group is different from other ones who look for the "15 minutes of fame." Catcher mentions Kelowna Creep Hunters, who use their real names and show their faces in investigation videos.
"We’re going a different direction than most of the Creep Catchers and it’s because of how aggressive some of them are," Catcher says. "My chapter here in Kamloops, we want to direct things towards... interview-like videos, so we can educate more than discriminate."
Mueller says the group's methods still don't line up with RCMP standards.
"I don’t think we would ever want to engage in any vigilante-type of behaviour and we’re certainly not going to plan on partnering with any of these organized groups," Mueller says.
Catcher says once the group's relationship with police becomes more refined, he could see the possibility of the group abandoning the social media side of catches and focus on handing the evidence to RCMP.
"I’m talking in the long, distant future," Catcher says.
Although Mueller says RCMP wouldn't collaborate with Creep Catchers, he agrees the relationship between both groups needs some work.
"We probably need to have some discussions with them around a way forward. If they’re going to bring things forward and we want to enter into criminal investigations we probably need to have some discussions and a strategy in place of how that’s going to take place," Mueller says.
HOW PUBLIC PERCEPTION AFFECTS BOTH GROUPS
Wade Deisman, criminologist from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, says the use of social media for public shaming in Creep Catchers stings may have something to do with the battle for fame.
"It's not a modest... gig," Deisman says. "I think that has a lot to do with their desire to kind of win public... affirmation, win public esteem, win public recognition, rather than just going to police. I think that would be a very humble way of dealing with things, staying out of the limelight completely."
When asked how he felt about the public making comments about losing confidence in the Kamloops RCMP detachment, Mueller said police have always relied on public assistance and will continue to do so.
"There’s many avenues in which the community can assist us in public safety and bringing matters forward. I mean, (Creep Catchers) may be one of them. (The RCMP doesn't) condone the method in which they’re doing it, but certainly we seek assistance from the community in all aspects of our investigations," Mueller says.
Mueller says both the RCMP and Creep Catchers have the same goal, but they go about it in different ways.
"We want to make sure people who are predatory and who are taking advantage of youth and young people are brought to justice," Mueller says.
This comes after a Kamloops deputy sheriff and a Surrey RCMP officer were both allegedly caught in separate Creep Catchers stings.
RCMP E-division spokesperson Staff Sgt. Rob Vermeulen denied a request for an interview on an official E-division statement on Creep Catchers and instead pointed to an RCMP media conference in Surrey after a Mountie was allegedly ensnared in a Creep Catchers sting.
A recording of the RCMP media conference in Surrey on Sept. 9, 2016 after a Mountie was allegedly ensnared in a Creep Catchers sting.
Insp. Tyler Svendson of the Integrated Child Exploitation team addressed the public on Sept. 9, saying RCMP would never collaborate with groups like Creep Catchers.
"We only have one common goal and that is to catch predators, child predators online." Svendson says. "Their objective is to public(ly) shame people."
Professor Deisman says Creep Catchers isn't the only group with self-interests in these investigations.
"Anytime somebody gets involved in kind of doing their own citizen policing, it creates the implication the police aren’t doing a good enough job," Deisman says. "The police were actually very disapproving of this stuff that’s going on, and the main rationale they usually bring forward is this is expert’s business."
Deisman says there is some legitimacy to the claim but it's hard for RCMP to handle everything that's thrown at them which leads citizens to take things into their own hands.
RCMP's Svendson said vigilante groups can end up costing police more time and resources when they decide to bypass law enforcement.
"When we start investigations ourselves, we don’t have to conduct forensic analysis on our computers and so forth," Svendson said. "But when other groups do that, we need to invest more investigative time into the files because we have to do an analysis of more witnesses and phones and so forth."
Deisman points out that groups like Creep Catchers in the United States have partnered with police forces to tackle online child predators.
"There are models in the States where citizens are involved in partnerships with police forces. That kind of thing has to be worked out and negotiated," Deisman says. "I’m not sure if Canada’s at that point yet."
Deisman adds things appear to be getting closer to that point.
Svendson rejected that notion in the media conference.
"We are the police officers and the ones who get the evidence. We’re the only ones under the criminal code to execute a search warrant," Svendson said. "The police, RCMP, could never be involved with an organization whose main objective is to publicly shame people. We just can’t be involved with groups like that."
To contact a reporter for this story, email Ashley Legassic or call 250-319-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.
We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016