Q&A: Mike Arntfield, host of the new Toronto-based reality series To Catch a Killer
The cop, university professor and TV personality has an urgent message: beware the internet
As a cop who chases online predators, you have a window into the unsettling world of cyberbullying.
I do. Almost as disturbing as the cyberbullying itself is the police’s inability to do much about it. We lack appropriate legislation, responsiveness from Internet providers and departmental support to allot the time required to investigate properly. Plus, research shows that in the vast majority of cases, victims don’t file reports.
Why is cyberbullying so hard to legislate? If in the real world someone says, “Hello, I’m going to kill you,” that’s pretty open and shut, right?
Online harassment isn’t always so overt. What if every day you receive an anonymous text that says, “You’re so ugly.” Or you receive a daily email with just a knife-stabbing emoticon? Drafting legislation to cover those two scenarios alone is a nebulous undertaking.
So we just throw in the towel?
Well, the government is trying to pass legislation banning the distribution of intimate images without the permission of the subject, but that’s just a tiny part of the problem.
You’re also a professor at Western studying the intersection of social media and psychopathy. I’ve read some of your research on cyberbullying as a gateway to more violent behaviour.
Yes. The web can act as an accelerator for people with psychopathic tendencies. That’s valuable information for law enforcement, since we can be on the lookout for online behaviours that are early warnings for offline crimes. Voyeurism is one, cyberbullying another.
Are you saying the Web creates psychos?
That’s the inference. Studies have shown that of all the serial homicides committed throughout the ages, an astonishing 92 per cent have occurred since the dawn of Web 1.0 in 1990. The Web is a fantasy world outside our normal lives where people can be anonymous. That’s an alluring combination for a budding psychopath. My post-doctoral research aims to narrow down who and what police should be monitoring so we can intervene.
Don’t suspected psychopaths have a right to privacy? After all, they haven’t committed any crimes.
It’s tricky, because we get into civil liberties, and there’s distaste for online monitoring now thanks to the NSA. I think there’s a middle ground. No matter what, we’d still need the courts to decide, case by case, if safety trumps privacy.
Have you seen Minority Report, in which Tom Cruise races around stopping crimes before they happen?
Ha—yes. And no, that’s not my inspiration. In fact, predictive policing is already in use in Canada. We apply an algorithm similar to Amazon’s—you know, “If you liked that book, you’ll like this one”—to data on B&Es, robberies and sexual assaults, to try to predict likely locations of future occurrences and deploy resources accordingly.
Which of the billion serial-killer shows—Luther, Dexter, The Fall, The Following, Hannibal—portrays the perps most faithfully?
Luther. Season one, “The Handbag Killer.” A killer with an inferiority complex working in a trusted, anonymous position. I won’t spoil the episode, but it’s true to life.
Which TV detective are you most like?
Luther, again. He’s cerebral and considers his job a calling, and he’s a sympathetic character to any cop who’s worked any beat for any length of time.
I hear your students call you “Profficer.”
Yes. I also get Indiana Jones and Van Helsing, a lettered man who chases monsters.
You’ve added reality TV show host to your resumé. What’s To Catch a Killer about?
I lead a civilian task force comprising a forensic archaeologist, biophysicist, media strategist, private eye and psychotherapist. We examine cold-case homicides using new technology.
Yes. Our goal is to uncover enough information to get the case reopened. In every episode, we meet our goal.
You chase killers, study killers and watch killers on TV. Do you have any non-homicidal pursuits?
I play guitar in a heavy metal band. Recently, I’ve gotten into Scandinavian metalcore—bands like Killswitch Engage, In Flames and Soilwork. I also love to Sea-Doo at my cottage on Lake Erie. Nothing beats it. Except maybe nabbing a killer.