To Catch a Predator… Right Next Door!

This last weekend, Dateline NBC in conjunction with Perverted Justice decided to film an episode of its famous "To Catch a Predator" series in the small community of Murphy, Texas, just adjacent to my town of Richardson.  This hits close to home because I live right on the border between Murphy and Richardson, and many of my good friends live in Murphy (the whole city is in my LDS/Mormon ward).  While I certainly appreciate removing sexual predators from the street, as I read the news reports, local commentary, and the condescending replies to that commentary of the folks at Perverted Justice, I am appalled at how little weight was given to the safety and interests of the citizens of Murphy in filming this episode.  However, I also think that Perverted Justice makes a good point in return- that sexual predators are everyone’s problem and thus the risk endured by the community that night is worth the mitigation of future risk to everyone posed by these perverts.  Here is the story with my thoughts and a question for you readers to answer.

Arguments from the City of Murphy:

The people of Murphy do have a right, in my opinion, to be outraged at the treatment they have received at the hands of Dateline NBC, Perverted Justice, and their own police department.  The Murphy Messenger reports as follows:

Rolling Ridge resident and HOA Vice President, Mike Daniel, and dozens of his neighbors became frustrated and disconcerted Saturday, November 4th, over Murphy Police Department’s decision to allow and participate in a Perverted Justice/NBC Dateline sting operation in this Murphy neighborhood. It is believed the purpose of the sting was to arrest sexual predators lured to Murphy via on-line chat room invitations for possible sex, although the Murphy Police Department refused to comment on the situation.

[. . .]

As neighborhood children played outside, predators showed up at the Rolling Ridge  sting house. Several residents unfortunately were witnesses to arrests made in the front yard of the home. One predator somehow managed to avoid arrest all the way into Richardson when officers, some driving down Murphy Road in unmarked rental vehicles with nothing more than hazard lights flashing, finally caught up with the suspect near the intersection of South Murphy Road and Renner. Camera crews for the NBC’s Dateline were close behind the police chase.

[. . .]

Despite repeated assurances from the Murphy Police Department that residents “couldn’t be safer” and were being “well protected,” one family walking in the neighborhood discovered a discarded plastic bag of a substance that appeared to be cocaine. When turning the suspected drugs over to police, the concerned parents were told “one of the perps must have thrown it out.”

[. . .]

[One concerned parent noted] “[t]here are children outside playing just a few houses down from this (sting) house. What if one of these sexual predators brings a gun with him in case things go bad?  Nobody in Rolling Ridge was warned ahead of time about this invasive operation in our neighborhood.”

The Murphy Messenger forum today is buzzing with commentary from angry Murphy residents, many of whom make good points.  The gist of their legitimate complaints is that Dateline NBC, Perverted Justice, and the Murphy Police Department should have taken better precautions to safeguard the well-being of their community, and, more importantly, their children, during this operation. 

Instead, they invited and lured Sexual Predators from all over the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex to this home in the middle of a peaceful and generally crime-free residential neighborhood, full of armed officers, during the middle of the day with children playing on the street right outside. What if one of the sexual predators had decided at the last minute not to go to the house, but decided to snag some young child innocently riding his bike outside in the neighborhood that day? What if one of them had come armed and started a gunfight with police with the neighborhood children looking on? None of the parents even knew to keep their children inside that day!! And note how a family found cocaine(!) on the sidewalk, allegedly thrown out by "one of the perps!" The news article above also reports a police chase that apparently ended at the intersection closest to my house- the intersection of Murphy and Renner Road. 

Think also of the shattering effect watching all these arrests must have had on the neighborhood children.  As one concerned parent put it:

this weekend has been very stressful and disturbing for our family. We have done the best we can to protect our children from knowing anything about this. Our son began to put pieces together after seeing police activity and talking to other kids. As far as he knew, police were catching bad guys in that house. He was very disturbed that bad guys might be across the street from us and wanted us to avoid driving on that street altogether. We did our best to downplay the situation. Meanwhile very bad people ARE coming into that house – people who would not be there without the permission of the chief of police.

A good point indeed. 

This parent also makes a good point about such perpetrators not even being in Murphy without the lure provided by Perverted Justice/Dateline NBC.  Note that since Murphy is such a small city (Murphy’s borders enclose only 3.8 square miles and it has a population of approximately 10,000 people) nestled in the middle of several much larger DFW cities (notably, Richardson (approx. 100,000 residents), Plano (approximately 250,000 residents), Wylie (approx. 33,000 residents), and Garland (approx. 222,000 residents), not to mention Dallas (approx. 1.2 million residents)), most of the sexual predators are probably not even from Murphy.  As noted by Mr. Daniel, the President of the Rolling Ridges HOA, “[t]his isn’t about getting sexual predators off the streets of Murphy. To the contrary, we are inviting them to come and visit. This is about ratings for a television show and publicity for a small town police department. I’m disgusted, just disgusted.” (emphasis added).   

In fact, an official press release just moments ago from the Murphy Police Department belays the fact that only ONE out of the twenty-two predators caught was from Murphy. The rest were from locations across the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex and beyond.

Again, I think the residents of Murphy have a very legitimate complaint with the folks at Dateline NBC, Perverted Justice, and their own police department for the way this sting operation was handled. 

Perverted Justice’s Response:

And what was Perverted Justice’s response to these legitimate complaints? After claiming that the people of Murphy "are going to be the laughingstock of America and predator destination number one if you keep this up,"  Perverted Justice goes on to write a condescending criticism of the people whose lives and community their joint operation put at risk, claiming among other things that the residents of Murphy are "really, really clueless people . . . who would apparently wish to see predators be free to operate in their town."  Perverted Justice also accuses Murphy residents of being more concerned about their property values than about their children’s safety from sexual predators. (While I did see a few isolated comments about property values, most of the citizens do seem more concerned about the fact that a potentially dangerous sting operation was going on with children playing less than 20 yards away from armed officers and online sex predators).

Perverted Justice also makes some legitimate arguments in favor of their operation, but I doubt any citizens in Murphy will listen to them after being put down so condescendingly.  Among these arguments is the fact that in today’s world of easy travel and online communications, sexual predators are everyone’s problem, even if they don’t come from Murphy.  Here is Perverted Justice’s best argument (besides simply stating that the citizens of Murphy are just dumb, dumb, dumb):

The idea that internet predators are not everyone’s problem is amusing to us. . . There is not an area in this country where an internet predator will not travel. If Michael Smith’s six year old grows up to be twelve, gets online[,] guess what? Predators will want to speak with him.

Perverted Justice makes a good point! Sexual predators are everyone’s problem.  Unfortunately, Perverted Justice then chose to spend the rest of its essay in a personal tirade against Murphy’s Mayor, Bret Baldwin, whom they put on the same footing as a sexual predator and call an "ignorant elitist[] who enable [sex predators'] attempts by trying to stop law enforcement from dealing with this issue." 

I should note here that I know Mayor Baldwin personally.  He is a man of the highest integrity and a good friend (as well as a member of our LDS ward).  The accusations and tirade against him by perverted justice are entirely unwarranted- he is doing his best as an elected official to act as the voice of his community, and his community is not pleased with the way this operation was handled.

Conclusion:

To sum up, the Citizens of Murphy make a good point.  This operation put their children at risk by luring sex predators from other communities into Murphy.  In one instance, drugs were left by a fleeing perpetrator right on the neighborhood sidewalk where any child could have found it.  There was at least one police chase.  And there was always the possibility of an armed stand-off; all this within yards of family homes in a family neighborhood with children playing innocently and unaware on the street all around.  More thought should have gone into making this a safe operation.

However, pointless tirade castigating innocent people aside, Perverted Justice also makes a good point.  Sexual predators are everyone’s problem, and no city, not even peaceful, innocent little Murphy, Texas, is immune from their grasp. Shouldn’t someone be doing something? And what could make a more powerful statement that sex predators are unwelcome in Murphy than catching them in a sting and putting their shameful faces on national television?

In the end, perhaps Perverted Justice owes Murphy an apology for not thinking of safety more, as well as for its condescending remarks in response to legitimate concerns of parents.

Thought-Provoking Question for Readers:

But, what do you all think? Is Perverted Justice more right or should they never have set up this sting in that quiet Murphy neighborhood? Any reactions to either side’s reaction/arguments? I am interested to see other takes on this.

And I will look forward to seeing the piece when it airs on Dateline NBC (date unknown at this point).  I have watched every other episode of "To Catch a Predator" with great interest. (You can, too, incidentally. They have most episodes available for viewing at their website).

One Final, Tragic Aside:

One of the predators to solicit sex online from the decoy minor at Perverted Justice was a former prosecutor in the Kaufman County District Attorney’s Office.  He shot himself at his home when police arrived with a warrant for his arrest stemming from his online solicitation.

17 Responses to To Catch a Predator… Right Next Door!

  1. john f. says:

    I have watched a few instalments of the To Catch a Predator series before and it is chilling to see. I never thought about the real-life neighbors of the sting house, so this is a truly fascinating situation. I empathize with the neighbors in Murphy but probably side with catching the sex offenders and putting their faces on national TV (and a lenthy jail sentence too).

  2. john f. says:

    Jordan, are you saying that it’s tragic that a sex offender shot himself when he was about to be caught or that it’s tragic that there was a sex offender working in the Kaufman County District Attorney’s Office?

  3. Jordan F. says:

    John- both. The loss of a life (especially by suicide) is always tragic. I certainly think that man needed to be arrested, but wish that he had chosen to have his day in court rather than taking his life. And of course, it is very tragic that he was a former prosecutor. I guess these people are everywhere… Scary.

  4. Jordan F. says:

    I am all for catching sex predators, and I agree with perverted justice that they are everyone’s problem. It just seems like it would have made more sense to do the sting in a larger community, like Plano or Richardson. But not on my street!! :)

  5. Jordan F. says:

    And, I must say, the “to catch a predator” series has been one of my favorite (in a morbid fascination type of way) news series on television lately. I have seen every one.

  6. Jordan F. says:

    Actually, the more I read the comments from Perverted Justice, the more reasonable it sounds. But, I still think the tirade against the concerned citizens of Murphy was a bit over the top.

  7. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    I’m with you, Jordan. Sexual predators are everyone’s problem but the safety of the town in question should have been more carefully protected as well. It seems insane to lure these predators to a house where their chosen kind of victim is playing only feet away. Guns, drugs, impluse kidnappings… it’s just a recipe for trouble.

    In the end, I don’t think “Perverted Justice” ought to be on the air. Justice is not entertainment. Do you really think the TV execs behind are concerned with protecting anyone? Or are they concerned with their ratings?

  8. Concerned About Vigilantes says:

    Dateline and Perverted Justice have no place in administering justice or acting like God. While we certainly will only speculate why ex-DA Conradt decided to take his life. We also can only speculate if he would have decided to take his life because he witnessed Dateline setting up cameras in his front yard while the police where knocking on his front door. I’m sure lawyers are jumping all over themselves calling Mr. Conradt’s family trying to get dibs on the wrongful death lawsuit. Dateline is not a law enforcement agency and has no right to interview suspects at the kitchen table while the police are waiting for the suspect in the bushes outside. It is a total mockery of our justice system.

    Perverted Justice’s “professionalism” has been displayed over and over again to the residents of Murphy over the past few days. I personally hold the Police Chief responsible for bringing this vile group to Murphy.

  9. Jordan F. says:

    You know- I am so disappointed with Perverted Justice. I was just over to their website, and they have posted yet more extremely derogatory remarks about the citizens of Murphy, attempting to paint them to the world as child-molester-loving, ignorant, back-woods hicks. Nothing could be further from the truth…

  10. JON says:

    with all do respect i myself grew up in a small town very similar to murphy and people have the same views that you are expressing but i myself was sexually abused and became addicted to drugs in that small town that i grew up in i am not blasting you or the fine community just a little bit of enlightenment….

    thank you for your time

  11. Beth says:

    I think the last poster is a bit confused. No one is disputing that sex predators are everywhere as are drugs. If anyone is being naive, it’s those who cry “catch the pervs at any cost!” But are they willing to put the safety of their children as that cost? Why not do the stings, but leave the TV show out of it? Why not do the stings, let real law enforcement run them not a vigilante group with it’s own agenda?

  12. Dan says:

    I am not sure exactly how the children were put at risk. From what I have read, the entire area had video and audio comparable to a Vegas casino. I also heard on the O’Rielley Factor that those same parents complaining that their children were in danger went home, got their children and brought them to the sting house in some bizarre protest. That is nuts! It looked like a pretty nice neighborhood though. Sounds like NIMBY to me. Their mayor is a piece of work though.

  13. Mike says:

    I don’t understand this show Catch a Predator from a legal standpoint. How does an internet chat room provide any credible information of how old a person is? If the adults are able to pose as 13 yr olds which they are not, then the chat room has no credibility of how old a person is. If the chat room has no credibility of the age of a person how does the prosecuter prove that the so called pedophile accused was 100% positive of the age of the person they were in contact with?

  14. Jordan F. says:

    Wow- several comments while I have been busy working these last few days.

    JON- I am sorry for what happened to you. Hopefully, the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

    Beth- thanks for your comment. Murphy certainly has been in an uproar these last weeks and it sounds like you have been right in the middle. It would be nice if Perverted Justice could at least show a bit more courtesy rather than simply dismissing those of you with legitimate concerns as people who live in Bizarro, Texas and want to have sex predators running free on your streets.

    Dan- You are probably right about the NIMBY mentality. No parent wants something like this in their backyard, but I suppose it has to happen somewhere. I do recall reading a confirmed report of a bag of cocaine just left laying on the sidewalk by one of the perpetrators who fled the scene- that certainly would not have been there absent this sting in a family neighborhood. Thank goodness it was not found by a child who thought it was leftover halloween candy. Of course, we could march through a huge parade of horribles that COULD have happened, and it is probably to Perverted Justice’s and the Murphy PD’s credit (and some measure of luck) that none of these horribles did occur. Still it’s enough to give one pause and cause parents to have legitimate concerns, in my opinion, which deserve a more thoughtful response than a dismissive and condescending tirade against “Bizarro, Texas” as Perverted Justice has done on its website.

    Here in Texas, as you know (and as Murphy Police Chief Myrick makes a big deal out of on video already posted at Dateline NBC’s website), the laws are tough enough on sex predators that they don’t even have to show up at a house to be arrested. Perverted Justice has claimed that before these perps came into the neighborhood, police already knew a great deal about them, including what kind of car they drove, etc. Perverted Justice also typically “verifies” a person by a telephone call, and uses reverse phone number look-up to get their address. I suspect that the Murphy police and Perverted Justice probably knew where these people lived before they even came into the neighborhood. So why did they not just go arrest them at home? I’m sure there is some evidentiary value to having them come to the sting operation, but I am also sure that it makes pretty good television (in fact, I know it does because I have watched every episode of “To Catch a Predator” with a sort of morbid fascination…)

    Mike- a prosecutor does not need to prove that a “so-called” pedophile was 100% certain of the person’s age who he was in contact with. It is enough to show, based on comments made during the chat, that the man reasonably believed he was chatting with a minor. If I get a chance (unlikely with my current workload), I might provide a more in-depth legal analysis of this situation as I understand it. After all, I am an attorney (but not an expert in criminal law or entrapment by any means…).

    In the end, as the upset in Murphy seems to be calming down after climaxing in an intense emergency city council meeting this last Saturday, November 11 (I have never seen Murphy City Hall more full of people!), it seems that this will pass. Dateline will air its show. People will remain indignant. Perverted Justice will continue its vigilante ways without regard or compassion for the communities it upsets and will continue to assert that everyone who disagrees with its methods really like child sex predators. And Craig Sherwood and Chief Myrick will probably keep their jobs.

  15. anyone in any town says:

    I wrote Dateline NBC earlier this year. Why? Because my husband (sweet and kind and adored by all) was arrested for trying to pickup a minor. He arranged to meet them on his lunch hour and it was the police. He spent the weekend in jail while I packed up all his stuff and called a lawyer – for me, not him.

    The local news station was there for his first hearing. So I got to wait around for the segment to air and pray like crazy no redneck vigilante freak would come to my house, not knowing he wasn’t living there anymore and try to break in. After it aired (which contained the unbelieveable perverted instant messages which preceeded his arrest) I got myself out of the house within 48 sleepless hours.

    I believe these people should be caught. I have been a victim of of abuse as a minor. Why I wrote NBC was because that is ALL they show, the perps getting arrested. Everytime someone finds out what my husband did, I have to hear about someone seeing that stuff on Dateline. I’m sick of hearing about it. I lived it.

    It’s easy to show that week after week and have people be horrified by it. It IS horrifying. What is more horrifying is that they never, ever talk about the aftermath. What treatment do these people get? What happens to their families who didn’t do anything wrong and are torn apart?

    And most importantly, why there are scores of men who 5 or 10 years ago would have NEVER even thought of such a thing doing it now? What I wouldn’t give for NBC to interview the psychiatrists who are experts in sex addiction who could explain how people end up on this downward spiral and things people should be doing to decrease the likelihood of things getting out of control like that in their homes. It starts with certain online habits and I don’t think I need to spell those out. (The majority of women I know across any socio/religious/economic backgrounds have significant others with negative online habits.) Anyone who’s taken a psychology class or knows a thing or 2 about physiology knows it takes people who drink regularly more drinks in the future and stronger alcohol. Many many more men who think they’ll never get to that point with their online indiscretions will do it. It will be the blackest hole of night for them and they won’t believe they let it get out of control.

    I wrote NBC because it is evident they don’t care about catching perps. They care about the salacious story which makes them money. They will care about us when they start explaining the whys and what to do about it.

  16. Jordan says:

    Thank you for your comment. It would seem more responsible if Dateline would do what you suggest, rather than just showing the salacious stuff and then cutting and running.

    I appreciate your comment, and sorry you had to live through that!

  17. Swineshead says:

    Fascinating stuff.

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