Toronto police are highly critical of a self-styled “online predator” catcher whose latest confrontation video has gone viral, saying his efforts are useless to real child exploitation investigators.
In a video posted Tuesday to Facebook, Justin Payne confronts a man at a Toronto subway station. Payne claims the man thought he was meeting up with an 11-year-old girl, who Payne posed as online to lure him.
In the footage, Payne follows the man to a parking lot and yells in his face at one point.
“You came to meet an 11-year-old girl off the Internet. I was talking to you the whole time — that was me!”
The video has been viewed more than 475,000 times.
Payne asserts he will inform police of the meeting, but spokesman Mark Pugash said he’s not aware of investigators receiving any information — and criticized Payne for his vigilante tactics.
“He has no training. There is considerable risk to what he does,” Pugash told Global News.
“I’m not sure you can catch anyone — and by catch I mean hold them to account legally — if you’re not trained in how to do it.”
Pugash said “proper investigators” with police have extensive training that ensures evidence gathering and their online interactions stand up to legal scrutiny,
“Evidence that is unacceptable in court is of no use to police,” said Pugash, adding Payne may also be putting himself at risk if he inadvertently receives child pornography from one of his targets.
Pugash said such online vigilantes, if they do want to assist police, must hand over their phones and other communications devices for evidence, but that Payne has refused to do so before.
“He has no understanding of what the law requires. And indeed how could he.”
“I think he’d be the first one to admit he has no training or experience in how to gather evidence. Is he entrapping people? I don’t know, and neither does he,” Pugash said.
Payne, a father who reportedly works in construction, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
But he’s not the only one online posing as young girls to lure alleged predators.
READ MORE: Vigilante videos going viral
In Edmonton, a group calling itself “Creep Catchers” troll the internet pretending to be preteen girls, set up meetings with would-be dates and then confront them on camera. It claims to have members in several other Canadian cities. Hacker group Anonymous has also targeted alleged online child porn sites and their users.
Pugash, meanwhile, said police in Toronto don’t need any help from Payne.
Investigators with the sex crimes unit have done major projects that have “rescued children around the world,” he said.
“They’re online every single day doing some of the most difficult work that is possible to imagine doing. And they do it effectively and they do it legally so they can go to court and the people are held accountable.
“He can do none of that.”Follow @willcampbll
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