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Citizen organization investigates child predators, ECPD discusses their tactics

Eau Claire (WQOW) — Child predators are out there, and law enforcement is constantly working to bring them to justice.

News 18 has reported on a number of cases in the past. Now, a new organization, World Wide Predator Hunters, is attempting to take matters into its own hands.

Concerned parents started World Wide Predator Hunters in 2018. Members seek out those who prey on children online and confront them. One of these stings happened Sunday, at the Eau Claire Walmart.

“We’re just trying to keep our children safe,” said Bryan Pederson with World Wide Predator Hunters. “There’s a lot of bad things going on in our community lately whether it be adults seeking out minors or child trafficking and we’re just trying to do our part in helping either prevent or stop that.”

Pederson said they work to protect kids from becoming victims, by posing as children to lure in predators. They do this by using online apps. Pederson said once they are able to gain the trust of the suspect, they confront them in public. Pederson said they always do their stings in groups, to ensure their safety.

“There’s always a chance of risk when we do these exposures, because we do not know what we are walking into,” Pederson said.

He said they document everything so they can hand it over to police.

“We feel like by us doing what we are doing we’re helping them, but it feels like they don’t feel the same way,” Pederson said. “They have told us that if we continue operating in some areas that we could face legal problems.”

Police have an entirely different approach than the World Wide Predator Hunters.

“We’re continually looking for these predators online, and if we’re able to establish a case and a probable cause to arrest them, we’ll do so,” said Officer Bridget Coit with the Eau Claire Police Department. “After that arrest our investigation doesn’t stop, it continues. We do forensic examination of the cell phones or computers potentially follow up with a search warrant and also interview them.”

Coit said getting to that arrest involves dozens of officers helping, and coming up with the right strategy to take down the predator. She said sometimes these stings can sometimes take months, and safety is the top concern in every case.

“The safety of our community, the safety of our officers and the safety of the suspect,” Coit said.

She said police set up meetings with suspects in public areas, but also make sure it’s an isolated area. She said if they didn’t take that extra precaution it could jeopardize the safety of everyone around.

“That individual doesn’t know exactly who they’re meeting, and so they could think another child who’s there per say at a McDonald’s or a gas station is the individual that they’re meeting,” Coit said.”We want to make sure that our squad cars and our officers are placed correctly, so that the vehicle can’t just drive off and potentially injury anybody while trying to flee from the scene.”

What’s even more important than getting their suspect, they want to make sure the charges stick.

“We have the training and experience to handle those in a correct manner, but also make sure that our investigation is successful, and that it can lead to a successful prosecution through the criminal justice system.”

Coit said if you have any information on child predators, it’s important to report that to police, and not seek justice yourself.

Shannon Satterlee

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