“To Catch a Predator” Style Police Stings Create Criminals

  • Jan 16 2020

A few years ago there was a popular segment on the news show Dateline called “To Catch A Predator.” Host Chris Hansen would bust a guy who thought he was meeting up with an underage kid he had been hoping to have sex with. 

The segments were wildly popular, but also controversial. Audiences loved the hidden camera footage, but criminal defense attorneys like me questioned the ethics of merging reality tv and policing. 

Police in Florida, where two different episodes were filmed, loved the show. Several law enforcement departments ultimately set up sting operations similar to those on the show — minus all the cameras. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office got lots of headlines boasting of the success of its Dateline-inspired police stings. 

Stopping sexual predators from victimizing children is obviously a good thing, but these sting operations certainly cause some concern. 

Dateline stopped recording these segments soon after an assistant district attorney shot and killed himself while NBC cameras rolled. Many of the charges against men arrested on the show were thrown out because the police work involved was sloppy or proper evidence was lacking. 

Do Improper Police Stings Push Individuals to Become Criminals?

Improper policing during sting operations is still a problem, even though the cameras have stopped rolling. A recent article in Florida Politics revealed that law enforcement officials are using tactics that push men to become law-breakers rather than going after true predators:

In one example from a 2017 operation, [Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office]  spent two days trying to seduce a 20-year-old man who showed no interest in having sex with a child. Detectives, who posted an ad for an 18-year-old woman on Tinder, matched with the young man and proceeded to swap “getting-to-know-you” texts for more than an hour; only then did detectives tell the man he was chatting with a 14-year-old girl, not an 18-year-old.

Undercover detectives continued to try and talk about sex with the man the next day; he again rebuffed the attempts, but continued the small talk because he indicated he was bored. Detectives then sent unsolicited, flirty photos to the man; a tactic that violates best practices and ethical standards for this type of stings.

This sounds an awful lot like entrapment to me. Under Florida Law, entrapment is defined in Chapter 777, Section 201 (1):

A law enforcement officer, a person engaged in cooperation with a law enforcement officer, or a person acting as an agent of a law enforcement officer perpetrates an entrapment if, for the purpose of obtaining evidence of the commission of a crime, he or she induces or encourages and, as a direct result, causes another person to engage in conduct constituting such crime by employing methods of persuasion or inducement which create a substantial risk that such crime will be committed by a person other than one who is ready to commit it.

When there is even a hint that a law enforcement official has pushed a suspect to commit the crime they are accused of, we should be very suspicious and consider whether the accused was entrapped. This is true not just in sex crime cases, but in all cases. I have raised entrapment as a defense in several drug possession cases as well. 

Contact Valiente, Carollo and McElligott PLLC Today for Strong Criminal Defense

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, and you believe you were entrapped, I may be able to help. Please contact my office to schedule an initial consultation. 

Posted in: Criminal