A college student used Snapchat's gender-swap filter to catch a California police officer seeking out underage girls online, and he has now been arrested.
New technology continues to complicate the activities of both criminals and crime-fighters, for better and for worse. According to a report by Buzzfeed News, Officer Robert Edward Davies of the San Mateo, California Police Department was arrested on Thursday based on his online correspondence with who he thought was an underage girl. However, the person messaging him was actually a male college student, identified only as Ethan.
Davies, 40 years old, reportedly chatted eagerly about sexual activity with Ethan, even after he was told directly that "she" was underage. In an official statement by the San Jose Police Department, Ethan was referred to as a "concerned citizen." In a later interview with NBC Bay Area, he said that he had purposefully posed as an underage girl hoping that he would catch sexual predators in the act.
Ethan told reporters that he had recently learned that a close friend had been molested as a child. Horrified, he was inspired to seek out similar criminals and do what he could to bring them to justice. He used Snapchat's gender-swap filter to pose as a young girl, then created a fake Tinder profile claiming to be a 19-year-old woman.
Tinder requires users to be 18 or older, but in private messages with Davies, Ethan stated plainly that he was actually a minor. They soon switched to the Kik app, where Ethan specified that he was 16 years old. Moreover, police said that the photo clearly made him look younger than 18, further incriminating Davies.
Ethan named his fake persona "Esther," while Davies reached out simply as "Rob." He told reporters that things turned sexual very quickly.
"I believe he messaged me, 'Are you down to have some fun tonight?' and I decided to take advantage of it," Ethan said. After that, they switched to the more discrete messaging service.
"We started texting on there, and it got a lot more explicit," Ethan went on.
In order to solidify his case, police say "Esther" discussed "engaging in sexual activity." Ethan then turned his phone to airplane mode, allowing him to take screenshots of his correspondence with Davies without alerting the older man.
Ethan turned his evidence over to the Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers tip line, along with whatever information he could get about Davies and his employment as a police officer. The San Jose Police reportedly investigated the case for three weeks before arresting Davies, holding him in Santa Clara County Jail on a $50,000 bond. He remains there now.
“Whether or not the person is 16 is irrelevant," Sgt. Enrique Garcia said of this unconventional new crime-fighting method. "If the suspect believes it's a 16-year-old on the other end, the suspect should have terminated that conversation."