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.
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.