Wannabe cops — Stop trying to catch pervs & speeders yourself, police say
TRENTON — The arrest of a 56-year-old man who wanted to meet an "energetic" 15-year-old boy isn't the first arrest prompted by social media — or by a member of the public taking the law into his or her own hands.
Members of the public have captured footage of erratic drivers, speeding buses and swerving trucks (sometimes following along at faster-than-legal speeds to do it), leading to criminal charges and job losses.
While they make for viral videos and can be helpful to police, officers would rather you leave the law enforcement to them. The safety of someone who has witnessed a crime is the most important concern, according to State Police Sgt. First Class Jeff Flynn.
"Somebody who may get involved in a situation could put themselves in serious danger or even death. That's why we recommend they call police when they see a crime," Flynn said.
Dispatchers who were on the phone with John Barrett, the director of finance for Hamilton Township in Mercer County, urged him not to speed to keep up with an erratic driver on Route 195 in early July. Barrett said when the driver of the car reached 100 mph, he backed off. The incident was captured on his dashcam
"What we recommend to people who witness a crime or witness a traffic violation is to report it to the police. If it's a traffic violation, if a person get pertinent information and pull over when safe and dial 911 or #77. If if's a crime we recommend a citizen call 911 to have State Police or local police respond to the situation," Flynn said.
The Cape May Prosecutor's Office says it and Lower Township police said it began investigating 56-year old John Deangelis July 24 after "being informed of a video that was circulating on social media." Two days later, Deangelis was arrested on a luring charge and remains lodged at the Cape May County Correctional Center pending Court proceedings, the prosecutor's office said.
The video was posted by Mantua resident Robert Davis and has been viewed more than 63,000 times on his Facebook page. Davis told New Jersey 101.5 he went on the dating app Grindr to seek out men who were trying to meet underage boys — so that he could confront and video them. He said the Deangelis "bus" was his first, but he didn't plan to involve police — instead, he'd answer questions if they came to him.
Police, in their announcement of Deangelis' arrest, didn't mention Davis' video by name. Davis told New Jersey 101.5 Sunday police threatened him with a cyber-harassment charge for taking on the operation on his own, and tried to get him to take his video down.
In that video, Deangelis first insists he had come to meet an 18-year-old — then a 16-year-old. After Davis tells Deangelis he'd been the "teen" on the other end of a chat, Deangelis eventually concedes Davis had claimed to be 15.
"I just wanted to meet someone who's young, who's energetic," Deangelis says in the video.
Davis said he understands police would rather he not take such stings into his own hands — and that he could be jeopardizing his own safety by confronting people. He said he started his operations after being inspired by a similar video series online, and has no intention of stopping.
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jeffery Sutherland's office in a statement said he "advises any individuals who have information regarding alleged crimes to contact law enforcement officials and not take matters into their own hands when approaching individuals who may be involved in criminal activity."
Sutherland did not return a message seeking additional comment.