ODESSA, Texas (KOSA) – A small group of West Texans say they are taking the law into their own hands by using the internet to stop possible child predators in our area.
For weeks, that group has been posting videos online for West Texans to see.
They capture what they describe as the moment a man thinks he’s about to meet up with a minor he’s been messaging online, but instead, he’s faced with an adult, a camera and questions.
We blurred the faces of all the people captured by those videos because none of them have been charged with a crime.
One of those videos shows a man walking away after he’s asked why he agreed to meet up with a 15-year-old he met online.
“It’s getting these nasty dudes out into the community and letting everybody know who they are.”
We met with the man behind the camera who agreed to speak anonymously about his mission. He and a few others said they are trying to expose potential child predators so law enforcement can investigate.
Here’s how they do it.
The group sets up a fake dating profile, then when they get a match, they tell the man they’re 15 years old and wait for a response.
“I would say about 80% of times they’re ok with it.”
In just three weeks, the team has taken screenshots of at least 50 conversations where the men continue flirting anyway.
Like one where the team sent a Snapchat message asking if it’s okay that she’s 15.
The man says that’s ok, then later suggests they get a room for sex.
“They even send like pictures, stuff like that, nasty pictures to what they know is a minor.”
Most of them don’t end up agreeing to meet, but five have so far.
“The reactions on their face. They’re like, yeah, they know they’re caught.”
The Ector County Sheriff’s Office confirmed all five people caught on camera are under investigation.
The operation seems to produce results, but does that mean it’s a good idea?
“No, absolutely not,” ECSO Public Information Officer Shirlee Hardee said. “It’s so dangerous.”
So far, when all the men have been confronted, they get nervous and walk away. However, Hardee worries one day it could get out of hand and someone will get hurt.
“If they do have a weapon just to get rid of you,” she said. “To get you to stop following them.”
Odessa police agree and said these operations could interfere with criminal investigations.
It’s certainly risky, but not illegal so the sheriff’s office can’t tell the group to quit.
“We’re kind of in between a rock and a hard place,” Hardee said.
However, the team thinks exposing potential predators is worth the risk.
“It feels pretty good getting their faces out there. Letting people know who and what they’re doing.”
We also asked the sheriff’s office if any of the material collected by the group can lead to criminal charges.
It is a felony to solicit minors and send explicit pictures to them. However, because none of these interactions were with actual minors, it’s tough to say whether any of these men will end up facing charges.
The sheriff’s office will continue to investigate all of the men captured in those videos.
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