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Vigilante groups surface across West Michigan hoping to track down child predators

Vigilante groups surface across West Michigan hoping to track down child predators. (WWMT/Cyrus Raymond)

Several community groups have surfaced in the West Michigan area seeking to expose child predators on the internet.

People who track down potential pedophiles say they have the right intentions and many feel they are doing a service, but police say they put themselves and others in a lot of danger.

These groups are actively using social media to spread the word about their stings. They pose as minors on popular social media sites, then track down older men who make contact and try to meet up.

A member of a group called 517 Child Predator Exposures (CPE) was asked why he does participates in these stings. He asked to remain anonymous.

"Law enforcement - they don't have the resources. They don't have the time to do what we're doing. They are looking for the major child porn rings, they are not looking at the guys who are just out there talking with young children," the man said.

He said he is in it to protect children and seek justice.

"Most of your cases of sexual predators that are on the sex offenders list, most of those are like hush-hush cases so people in the community don't know anything about them unless they search the sex offender registry," he said.

At least two other groups have started the predator stings: 989 Child Predator Exposures (CPE) is an affiliate of 517 CPE and Jacktown Against Peds.

All three groups have Facebook pages and post live videos of their stings.

Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting said the practice is unsafe and believes some vigilantes are inspired by television shows.

"There's, also I think, sometimes a frustration that people are getting away with things they shouldn't be getting away with," Getting said.

He said evidence collected by vigilantes is often not able to be used in the courtroom.

"There are always concerns about our ability to move forward in cases that are being directed by someone other than police investigators," Getting said.

The member of the 517 group said he wants to open a chapter for every area code in Michigan.

Police remind these groups that when they confront someone that the situation could quickly turn violent and it is better to involve police in the process of staging a meet up with a potential predator.

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