When the Public plays P.I.
Posted by Pamela S. on Thursday, June 14th, 2012
Out in the real world, there are wannabe Nancy Drews and Miss Marples searching the virtual world for missing people and clues to cold cases. I use those female examples because most fictional amateur sleuths are female, while the real hard-boiled detectives are usually male. While most amateur sleuths are women, all kinds of people – dads, moms and teenagers – are playing armchair detective online.
Amateur sleuths have no professional training and volunteer their time to work for causes that they believe in. Thanks to the Internet, anyone can conduct searches on social media and other sites to track down a missing person or to obtain information. The Luka Magnotta case, which I have written about ad nauseum, has drawn attention to this online activity. An animal rights group called the Animal Beta Project were the ones who pointed out Magnotta as the alleged kitten killer on YouTube and tracked his online activities. The group posted this on their Facebook page: “He might end up killing human beings one day.” It appears that they were right. The group provided information to police in 2011; however, no action was taken.
Perverted-Justice.com is a group of “trained adult citizens” who use pretexts to enter chat rooms, posing as underage children to draw out sexual predators. The group has become known through their work on the NBC Dateline show “To Catch a Predator”. Perverted Justice has gained some legitimacy by sharing information with various police agencies and the Department of Homeland Security.
The Doe Network is a volunteer organization that works on cold cases. The organization searches for missing people and attempts to match missing people with unidentified human remains. The Doe Network liaises with law enforcement agencies and missing person networks. The group also works with Project EDAN, an organization of 23 certified Forensic Artists who volunteer their t
ime to provide composite sketches and clay reconstructions to help law enforcement identify the deceased.
Missing Pieces is another site that encourages citizens to become involved in online amateur sleuthing to locate missing individuals, solve cold cases or help identify John or Jane Does.
Amateur sleuths become involved because they want to make a difference. They also find it exciting. Although law enforcement agencies don’t recommend that people play detective, they welcome tips from the public. “Most Wanted” lists are promoted to get the public involved in catching criminals. The TV show America’s Most Wanted has proved highly successful.
If a loved one goes missing, many people become frustrated with what they see as police inaction on their case. Law enforcement will not ignore a situation where a person has disappeared, but they can’t be everywhere at once and don’t have the resources to search nationally or internationally for most missing persons.
Everyone can keep their eyes open in the digital world. As with any profession, those of us who have worked as a professional investigator, either in law enforcement or as a P.I. in the private sector, don’t always take amateurs seriously. Because of the successes that these groups have had, they are not so easily dismissed. Unlike vigilante types who patrol the streets claiming to stop crime and catch criminals, such as self-proclaimed superhero Pheonix Jones, most Internet sleuths aren’t going to compromise a police investigation. Anytime the public can assist law enforcement in solving a murder or locating a missing person, it’s a good thing.
Former FBI Assistant Director Tom Sheer has recruited the best from the FBI, DEA, IRS and Secret Service to build a formidable team at Sheer Investigations. Our private investigators have the sensitivity and experience to handle the most delicate investigations.