The Macomb County Sheriff’s Department has a new program to enlist citizens to chat up pedophiles online. The goal is to expand the department’s capacity to find people who are interested in statutory rape. I suspect this is an attempt to recreate the ratings Fox 2 News got when they staged a similar stunt a month or two ago, although I didn’t hear of their sting resulting in any prosecutions. While the Sheriff’s Department’s goal is admirable, I have to question their methods.
Entrapment was the first thing that I thought of, but my law degree from Law & Order taught me that an entrapment defense is actually pretty hard to prove. You have to prove that you wouldn’t normally have been open to the crime in question and that it was only the specific methods that enticed you into a life of crime. I’m not the only one with reservations.
“I think it’s shocking,” said Detroit defense lawyer Elizabeth Jacobs. She opposes law enforcement agents posing online as children because she said it tricks law-abiding citizens into committing crimes.
She said adding average Joes and Janes to the mix is even worse. “It sounds like Soviet Russia where everybody spies on everybody else,” Jacobs said.
Mark Bowser, an Ingham County Sheriff’s Department detective and president of the Michigan chapter of the High Technology Crime Investigation Association, said the program should be used carefully.
“There’s too much that can go wrong, even as a police officer,” he said.
Personally, I’m not entirely comfortable with a couple parts of this. First, let’s look at what’s going on. Two adults are exchanging text messages. The context is that one adult believes that the other adult is a horny minor, and when they show their intent by taking the action of trying to meet the fictional minor. If they attempt to crack down on this at any point before then I have a big issue with it, but what’s being done now seems fine.
Second, since they haven’t actually done anything to hurt anyone; I would hope that these criminals get plenty of rehabilitative therapy with their punishment. If the person is linked to a crime where real sex was involved the punishment should be much stricter. I also have to wonder if they should be labeled as sex offenders, because technically they’re potential sex offenders.
The Sheriff’s Department has no shortage of help for this endeavor. This isn’t too surprising for anyone who’s read Baiting.org. They’re doing background checks on over 100 applicants, hopefully better background checks than the Catholic church has been doing. I doubt they’ll need that many people, considering they only had 20 arrests last year. I have to wonder though, if these background checks would find problems with the people they catch…