KNOXVILLE (WATE) – On Facebook certain groups dedicated to spotting crime aim to be the 21st century version of a neighborhood watch.
One group, Knoxville Crime Exposed has over 50,000 members. A second group, Knoxville Crime, has an even larger following and those are just two examples.
Greg Minton, the creator and administrator of Knoxville Crime Exposed, said his group aims to help catch thieves by making people aware of the crime in their area.
“I think people think, well that can’t happen to me, that’s not going to happen, that doesn’t happen in this neighborhood,” said Minton. “I think it can happen anywhere… anytime. It doesn’t matter.”
When asked how law enforcement feels about the group, Minton says he’s not too sure because he hasn’t spoken with police about the group. He said he would like to.
WATE 6 On Your Side reached out to both the Knoxville Police Department and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office about the groups. Both did not want to speak on camera about the group.
Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones issued a statement saying, “Facebook pages such as the one you are reporting on are dangerous because many times the information posted is incorrect or false.”
Minton agrees that reporting scanner traffic can be dangerous. He says he can’t always confirm all of the information is really happening, but he does searches and tries to figure out as much as he can.
Retired Knoxville Police Chief Phil Keith spent 34 years on the force and says pages like Knoxville Crime Exposed can be risky.
“I think they can be really dangerous,” said Keith. “They can create vigilante behavior they can create mob reactions,” said Keith.
About a month ago, Minton changed the settings in the group after he says outlandish posts and threats became too much. Now, an admin has to approve all posts before they are published.
“This guy right here was caught taking pictures of kids in swimsuits at Douglas Lake, but would delete the pictures before police got there,” Minton said going over a post waiting for approval. “Someone’s got a picture of him on here letting everyone know if your kid was there at Douglas Lake, this guy was taking pictures.”
The photos were blurred before Minton posted them to the group, but the original poster showed the man’s license plate, make and model of the vehicle and even the person’s face in his post. When asked how the person taking the picture knew what he was taking pictures of, Minton said, “that’s the tough part.”
“You know it could be somebody could just take a picture of this guy and say that … and that’s what is tough about the group, is that you’re kind of leaning on someone’s word more than anything,” said Minton.
Porsha Warren, a mom, Knox County school bus driver and a member of Knoxville Crime Exposed said she likes the group because it makes people realize that they need to be aware of their kids and their surroundings.
“People should be more conservative about some of the things that they do post when it comes to things like that,” said Warren. “We’re not investigators. We’re not police officers. We’re just Facebook users.”
Keith says he has other concerns about crime spotter groups.
“It could report something suspicious and their followers rush to the site,” said Keith. “They could contaminate the crime scene. They could create hazards for the law enforcement officer. There could be danger there for the individual, as well there could be misinformation planted.”
The former police chief says he also worries about other types of posts that could be too sensitive.
“I’ve seen a couple of posts where they reported suicide at a particular location,” said Keith. “That’s not fair to the family. There is some privacy expectation.”
WATE 6 On Your Side Legal Analyst Greg Isaacs said there could be a potential basis for libel or slander by posting a picture of someone claiming they committed a crime when they did not.
“You also have a really good record of the comments so I would be very careful,” cautions Isaacs.
However, crime groups are growing in popularity. Adding Minton’s Facebook group users with Knoxville Crime’s users and there are nearly 100,000 followers.
Minton said he believes his group provides a valuable service to the community. He says his number one goal is to make sure everyone is aware that crime does happen.
“I think before, people knew crime happened here and they knew things happened, but I don’t think they knew how much it happened,” says Minton. “I just want people to be aware, protect their things and be safe.”