KOKOMO — Vigilante groups on social media are on the rise in Indiana, according to Howard County Prosecutor Mark McCann.
In a release by the prosecuting attorney's office, McCann states that such vigilante groups are taking it upon themselves to investigate and "go after" online predators, without the support of law enforcement. Such groups are being formally asked to stop their independent investigations.
"While these groups may have the best intentions in mind, operating outside the scope of law enforcement can be extremely dangerous for both themselves and others," McCann stated.
The private investigations by the vigilante groups, according to McCann, consist of citizens actively pretending to be minors online to lure suspected predators. After which, members of the vigilante groups confront the suspect, which is often live-streamed.
McCann describes such private investigations as "harmful" and encourages "the residents of Howard County not to take the law into their own hands."
"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," the release read.
"Law enforcement officials are the only ones qualified to conduct these kinds of investigations," the release 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."
There are more negatives to being a vigilante part of a "citizens sting operation" the prosecutor states. Vigilantes, according to McCann, open themselves up to lawsuits and violent interactions.
If a resident has a reason to suspect someone may be attempting to lure minors online, they're asked to pass that information along to local law enforcement by calling 800-262-TIPS.