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How a Snapchat filter led to the arrest of an off-duty cop

A California college student used this Snapchat Gender Bender filter to pose as a teen girl to see if he could help police identify potential pedophiles. (Photo: NBC Bay Area)

SAN FRANCISCO — A Bay Area college student didn’t need any superpowers or a utility belt to fight crime. Instead, he used the popular “gender bender” Snapchat filter.

South Bay College student Ethan, who didn’t say his last name for fear of retaliation, told police that a close friend had told him about how she had been molested as a child, and that spurred him to create a fake profile on the online dating app Tinder to help identify possible pedophiles.

“I was just looking to get someone,” the 20-year-old told NBC Bay Area. “He just happened to be a cop.”

40-year-old Robert Davies was arrested by the San Jose Police department on one count of communicating with a minor for the purposes of committing a felony.

Ethan used the Snapchat filter to make himself look like a girl and then posed online as a 16-year-old named Esther who was lying about her age on Tinder. That’s when he says a conversation started with 40-year-old San Mateo police officer Rober Davies.

Police say that the conversations started on Tinder in early May according to CBS News and that their conversations then moved to the anonymous messenger app KIK and then later to Snapchat.

“I believe he messaged me, ‘Are you down to have some fun tonight?’ and I decided to take advantage of it,” Ethan said. After moving apps, Ethan said the conversation became more explicit even after he said he talked about only being 16.

Throughout the course of the conversations, Ethan compiled a number of screenshots making sure not to let Snapchat notify Davies that the screenshots were being taken.

Davies has since been arrested on one count of communicating with a minor for the purposes of committing a felony and placed on paid administrative leave according to the San Mateo police.

Police Chief Susan Manheimer said in a statement that, “This alleged conduct, if true, is in no way a reflection of all that we stand for as a Department, and is an affront to the tenets of our department and our profession as a whole.”

Ryan Holtan from the Utah Attorney General’s Office told Dave and Dujanovic on Wednesday that he and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force have seen an uptick in child predation online since the inception of their task force. ICAC looks specifically at cases involving minors.

“We have dozens and dozens of people who are showing up expecting to meet a 13-year-old girl or a 13-year-old girl and have a sexual relationship with them,” he said.

Just last month, 13 men were arrested from around Utah in a coordinated sting effort.

Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat are the three big social media sites that predators will use most often to get in touch with children, Holtan says.

“These predators are looking to build a relationship as someone that the child can trust at the exclusion of their parents or caregivers. They can then build that to an in-person meeting,” he said.

Holtan says that it’s important that parents understand the social media sites that their children are on and how they work as well as what they can look for to recognize if they are being preyed upon.

You can find a list of resources provided by the ICAC here.

Tune into Dave & Dujanovic from 9 a.m to noon on KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM / 1160 AM, every Monday through Thursday.