09/09/2016 07:28 EDT | Updated 09/09/2016 09:11 EDT

'Creep Catchers' Group Claims B.C. RCMP Officer Lured Underage Girl

The vigilante group is dedicated to identifying and publicly shaming alleged child sexual predators.

SURREY, B.C. — Charges are pending against a police officer in British Columbia caught up in a sting by a vigilante group dedicated to exposing and publicly shaming alleged child sexual predators, the acting head of the B.C. RCMP says.

Assistant Commissioner Brenda Butterworth-Carr told reporters Friday an unnamed officer from Surrey, B.C., is in custody while police investigate allegations of child luring and sexual exploitation.

The officer was arrested Thursday night, she said, a day after a vigilante group calling itself Surrey Creep Catchers livestreamed a sting where its members gathered to confront a man who thought he was going to meet an underage girl.

Butterworth-Carr said the officer has been removed from duty, is suspended and also faces a code-of-conduct review by the department.

A Facebook video shows an unidentified man running. (Photo: Surrey McCatch/Facebook)

"If these allegations are substantiated, we will be taking immediate steps to separate ourselves from this individual," she said.

"These allegations are egregious and not in keeping with that we expect of our employees. There is no room in the RCMP for this kind of behaviour or individual."

Creep Catchers is a loose collection of organizations across Canada that has sprouted up over the past year with an aim of exposing child predators by posing online as minors before meeting in person to film and berate them.

The arrest comes a little over a week after the RCMP's child exploitation unit warned citizen groups against confronting alleged child predators, and said doing so could put people in danger and obstruct official police investigations.

"Their objective is to public shame. Our objective is to arrest, charge, prosecute and obtain convictions."

Insp. Tyler Svendson of the RCMP's behavioural sciences group said that although police and Creep Catchers have the same goal of catching sexual predators online, their other aims differ in a way that would prevent any form of collaboration.

"Their objective is to public shame. Our objective is to arrest, charge, prosecute and obtain convictions," he said.

"The RCMP can never be involved in an organization whose main objective is to publicly shame people," Svendson said, adding that Wednesday's incident doesn't legitimize creep-catching groups.

The involvement of vigilantes can actually complicate investigations and demand additional resources to vet evidence, making police work less efficient, he added.

Svendson said he was unable to provide any information on the officer in question, including whether he had been under investigation before Wednesday and whether he served in a police role that involved contact with children.

Experts condemn creep catchers

Multiple attempts to contact members of various creep-catching outfits, including Surrey Creep Catchers, received no response.

Many experts condemn the mob mentality behind such groups, raising concerns over the lack of oversight, the risks involved and the possibility of allowing a possible offender to escape justice.

Peter Collins, a professor of forensic psychiatry at the University of Toronto, said that often people who participate in creep catching have no knowledge of police work, much of which isn't publicized.

By taking justice into their own hands, creep-catching participants can go so far as to sabotage investigations, he said.

"If you want neurosurgery you want someone who is trained as a neurosurgeon. You're not going to want someone who dabbles in it."

Collins described trained police officers as specialists who are uniquely equipped to conduct online investigations of child predators and to move those cases into the legal system as warranted, a power and skill set vigilante groups don't have.

"If you want neurosurgery you want someone who is trained as a neurosurgeon. You're not going to want someone who dabbles in it," he said.

Criminologist Neil Boyd from Simon Fraser University also denounced the practice.

"I just don't think it's healthy to build a society based on vigilantism," Boyd said, describing it as too simplistic.

"On one hand, yes we all share their concern about child sex offenders. On the other hand, is this the approach that we want to endorse?"

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