Most people use social media on a daily basis, it has become a huge part of personal and professional lives. And now, social media is also being used by police departments across the country to solve crimes. From Twitter to Facebook and YouTube, police are tossing out social media nets to reel in criminals.
Sheriff's deputies in Hillsborough County, Florida wanted to find the man who stole a canned drink and used it to attack this convenience store clerk, so they posted the surveillance video on You Tube.
Someone who recognized the attacker called in a tip and within two days he was arrested and has since pleaded guilty.
Police in Akron, Ohio, wanted to know who was using stolen credit cards to buy things at local stores so they turned to social media for help. The Ohio department posted surveillance video online hoping to generate tips, and it worked!
These examples are part of a growing trend of police expanding their reach by using social media to assist their investigations.
South Bend police Lt. Cindy Kilgore sees the value of using social media, she points to her department’s recent activity on Facebook.
“there was a woman, a young woman, who I believe was about 16 and came up missing out of the Goshen area, and I didn't know about it until one of her relatives or friends from Indianapolis, posted that information on our Crimestoppers page,” says Lt. Kilgore, “So I learned of it that way and then I was able to disseminate to all the people on our Crimestoppers page for them to share it with their friends, and several people did pick it up and share it and so who knows how many eyes have seen that case now, so it's an invaluable tool for investigators.”
Police in Montgomery County, Maryland, posted a video of a flash mob robbing a convenience store online, and viewers helped identify who was involved. Investigators say it's not just faces that can be recognized, "it also helps, because you can actually see the person move, how he walks. Sometimes that's a characteristic that's identifiable to some people."
In Philadelphia, police put another video on You Tube after a woman riding on a city bus beat up a passenger. Just two days after it was posted, investigators got a tip that led to an arrest.
A survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police shows that nearly 90 percent of the nation's law enforcement agencies use social media of some kind to seek public help.
Many agencies have now set up their own You Tube sites, often posting crime scene surveillance videos that are Internet-ready.
In Prince George's County, Maryland, police also use You Tube as their own kind of T-V channel, to reach people directly with official information:
"We will put an entire new conference on You Tube, to include surveillance video or mug shots, along with the interviews from the various police officials, so the information is getting out to the public,” says Julie Parker of the Prince George’s County police.
Even though Michiana police often provide video and still photos of suspects to the local media, Kilgore says the day is coming when they follow the lead of police elsewhere in the country by utilizing websites like YouTube.
According to Lt. Kilgore, “My board of directors and I have recently talked about utilizing the social media that's available more because K think more and more people are going to Facebook but, as you said, to YouTube as their source of social media.”
And while Kilgore says they haven't posted videos yet on YouTube, she has been posting some of the "crime of the week" spots on the Michiana Crimestoppers Facebook page.