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Vigilante groups trying to catch child predators, Winston-Salem police chief says

Police Chief Catrina Thompson said vigilante citizen action groups are working to expose child predators in the Triad and it's harming, not helping, investigations.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Winston-Salem Police Department is warning about the dangers to community safety when it comes to vigilante groups working to expose child predators.

Police Chief Catrina Thompson spoke Wednesday night about the dangers and concerns the groups pose to investigations and safety.  

"The intention of these groups may be honorable, no one wants to see a child in our community become a victim of any kind, especially that of sexual exploitation," Thompson said. "These groups, however, often end up creating a significant challenge to child exploitation cases."

Thompson said the department receives an average of 15 – 20 tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children each month.

"Investigators then determine if the tip is legitimate or not. It takes a significant amount of time to conduct a thorough investigation and make sure justice is served by holding these predators accountable for their actions in court," Thompson said.

"It can just cause more harm than good because there are very strict evidentiary legal protocols that we follow for the prosecution of these cases, and honestly just a public confrontation, poses a lot of danger for the members of the groups as well as the people in the area or the people that they're confronting, it's just not best practice and a lot of times those can't be prosecuted based on the way maybe the group obtained information or something like that," Amy Gauldin with WSPD said. 

She said the groups can even harm cases they're working on and investigating. 

"Sometimes their actions and initial investigations may harm a case more than it helps it," Thompson said. 

She said the groups often turn to social media apps where they lure a predator and then arrange for a confrontation either in person or on social media. 

"With these actions, it’s possible that these citizen groups may do something that compromises a case that took months to develop and if that occurs, the law enforcement agency handling the investigation potentially loses all the evidence and progress made in this case."

Not only that, but it poses a direct threat to safety as they lure a potential suspect to a public place and confront them.  

"These confrontations are likely to create disturbances and have the potential for violence," Thompson said. "The Winston-Salem Police Department doesn’t want to see any innocent people injured or possibly even killed because of these actions."

Thompson said if you have a tip about a child sexual predator to contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678.

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