Yesterday one of our local reporters from KOLN TV wanted a "law enforcement perspective" on couch surfing. Sounds like a neat idea to me, sort of like the newest version of youth hostels. As a baby-boomer, I grew up in an era when crashing on a stranger's couch, traveling to Europe with a backpack and a hundred bucks, and hitchhiking all over the place was pretty well accepted.
Alas, now we have to know stuff that we'd really rather not know. Particularly when you're in my business: you want three references and a cheek swab from grandma before you allow her to babysit. Same creeps were out there in the 1970's, we were just blissfully ignorant compared to today.
With a little time before the interview, I jumped on couchsurfing.com, put in a few parameters, and rendered a list of available hosts in Lincoln. I found an interesting guy who specified in his profile "no cigarette smoking." He's been arrested four times by my officers for smoking or possession of marijuana, though, and we have a slew of intelligence information about him dealing in various controlled substance.
I also found a registered sex offender offering his sofa. This particular guy was convicted of a felony count of child enticement, when he tried to romance what he thought was a 13 year old girl, and arranged to meet her to consummate the relationship. The forensic examination of his personal computer was rather interesting.
Another prospective couch host was taken into emergency custody by our officers quite recently after threatening to shoot himself.
So, if you're going to couch surf, take advantage of the free resources for background checks, email some of the references, don't go it alone if you can help it, and bring your own sleeping bag: never know what's been on that couch. No need to be paranoid, though. You can't live in a cocoon, and somehow the concept of people hosting travellers in their home is appealing to a guy who was on his own at an early age, and depended on the kindness of others to make his way for several years.