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Local Police Departments Using Social Media To Help Solve Crimes

Reported by: Send eMail Darrah Wilcox
Reported: Jul. 3, 2014 3:44 PM EDT
Updated: Jul. 3, 2014 6:57 PM EDT

Police Social
Eyewitness News Photo

Milton, Barboursville , Cabell County , West Virginia

More and more local police departments are using Facebook as a tool to help them reach more people, and it's helping them solve more crimes than ever.

"This is like the modern equivalent of putting out a wanted poster in the wild west, except this reaches about 30,000 people in less than 12 hours," Milton Police officer Dean Bishop said.

They're solving crime, through social media. It's a smart move, according to many local social media users.

"Considering how popular Facebook is it's probably going to be pretty popular. Pretty much everybody I know is on Facebook or has a Facebook," Roger Brooks said. He said he follows local police pages to keep an eye on things in his own neighborhood, and also to see if he can help identify anyone involved in a crime.

That's exactly how Milton Police tracked down a trio of suspects Wednesday. Just hours after posting a video to their Facebook page of the men they say trespassed at the old Morris Hospital and caused property damage, the suspects turned themselves in.

"It was amazing how fast it happened, because we've had people in there before, and we still don't know who they are, and this one, within five hours, the three people were here turning themselves in because so many people had seen it and so many people had shared it," Bishop said.

The men were ticketed for trespassing, and one with destruction of property for some minor damage. The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has been a hot spot for criminals and so-called "ghost hunters" in recent years.

Police said the place has been stripped of copper and other items thieves believe to be valuable. They said there's been a lot of damage to the interior of the buildings, and that's why they installed a couple surveillance cameras a couple months ago. They decided to put the images from an overnight break-in Wednesday, and were pleased to see the results of the effort.

"Within five hours, we had more than 14,000 views, and now we're up to 31,000 views," Bishop said.

A similar situation happened Wednesday in Barboursville, when police posted a picture of a suspect in a shoplifting case at Target.

"Within a matter of hours, we had probably 17,000 people and about a half a dozen of those called in and positively identified the suspect, warrants were signed. Case closed," Barboursville Police Detective Greg Lucas said.

They've only had the Facebook page about a month, but said it's already proven extremely useful to the department.

"We've had three cases of shoplifters caught on video, that we could not identify. We posted the still shots of the video on our Facebook page, and within hours of each of those cases, it was viewed by literally thousands of people, and we had very, very good leads to effect arrests on those," Lucas said.

He said they have 18 officer and two investigators, but having access to thousands of extras eyes and ears on Facebook is a great tool.

"It's kind of a new way of doing community police, getting the whole community involved, and people like that. They like solving crimes. They like helping us solve those crimes," he said.

Each department said they plan to continue to use social media to its fullest potential in the future. "Information has always been our greatest asset in fighting crime, and the database that Facebook and other social medias offer us, is insurmountable," Lucas said.

Here's a link to the Barboursville Facebook page:

Here's a link to the Milton Police Department Facebook page:

You may be also find your own local police department on Facebook with a simple search on the site.

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