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Police Investigate Tip From 'Creep Catching Unit'
By Jorge Casuso
September 12, 2023 -- Police detectives are investigating allegations of attempted lewd acts with a minor after meeting with a "private vigilante group" that targets online predators, police said Tuesday.
According to a post on SMPD's X page, the department "was notified after the incident" that the Creep Catching Unit (CCU) "was in Santa Monica performing an investigation."
Officers met with the CCU -- "a private party with no law enforcement affiliation or authority" -- and "obtained information for a report," according to the post.
"As a law enforcement agency, SMPD must ensure there is verifiable evidence that meets prosecutable standards that can be presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney," police said.
"The circumstances alleged by the reporting party remain under investigation by SMPD detectives," according to the post.
Lt. Erika Aklufi, the Police Department spokesperson, said that "the investigation is just starting.
"We can't rely on the information collected by private vigilante groups and have to do our own independent investigation that follows law and policy," Aklufi said.
The CC Unit -- whose founder goes by the moniker "Ghost" -- "is a small group of 20 somethings on their own who hope to expose adults preying on children," according to the group's website.
Founded in 2018, the group, which operates in California, "strives to help protect minors from online predators both by catching these predators, and raising community awareness around the issue in hopes of toughening laws and legislation."
The group -- whose members are anonymous and wear masks during the videotaped encounters -- claims to have exposed more than 240 online predators and has had more than 25 online predators arrested, the website said.
"CC UNIT provides all the evidence to law enforcement, from beginning to end, to aid their investigation," the website states.
Started in San Diego, the group says its investigations have led to arrests in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Bernardino.
Critics, who include members of law enforcement, note that the unit's lack of experience in police work can be dangerous.
Defenders contend the group is exposing online predators who may not otherwise have been caught.
A year after being formed, the group gained media attention after it was the subject of a November 2019 report in the San Diego Union Tribune.
According to the article, the group ran citizen stings "posing as young teens on dating sites, and agreeing to meet with the people they suspect are trying to lure them for sex."
The unit "records the meetup -- more of a confrontation -- then posts the video online, along with the chat logs, some of which look pretty damning."
The creep-catchers's website notes that "all videos are filmed using a body camera and edited afterward."
In the group's first year, one of its video encounters led to the dishonorable discharge of a Camp Pendleton Marine in his 30s, according to the Union Tribune.
Another resulted in the suicide of a Navy sailor who was questioned by military criminal investigators after a military-focused online news outlet reported on a video posted by the group.
Last month Fullerton Police investigated a man after he was confronted on video by the group's leader "Ghost," according to a report on KTLA.
The investigation led to the man's arrest, but he was released after the District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges, KTLA reported.
Fullerton Police detectives "have outstanding search warrants in the case and if they discover new evidence of criminal activity, they will again forward that information to the DA’s office," according to the report updated on July 25.
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