Do you have your cell phone nearby? How about a tablet?
For many of us, they’re now part of our daily lives. And increasingly, they’re also part of the crime fighting tools that local police use to catch criminals.
Police and local sheriff’s departments are using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Nextdoor.
That’s opening up opportunities for officers and making it harder for criminals to hide.
The images are everywhere. In a split second, crimes and the suspects who commit them can be sent to thousands of eyewitnesses.
And criminals who may have stayed anonymous are suddenly put in the spotlight.
“We have caught several crooks by the pictures we put on Facebook,” said Clovis police chief Matt Basgall.
“We’ve solved crime as a result of Facebook. we’ve prevented crime as a result of Facebook,” said Madera police chief Steve Frazier.
Police agencies around the valley are turning to technology that’s right at your fingertips. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – easily accessed on smart phones. They have
become a valuable resource in solving crimes.
Take for example this video: two sisters were robbed walking home from school. One of the suspects recorded the crime on his phone, and then posted it to Facebook.
“A couple weeks later friends of the victims happened to see this video posted online. They gave it to our sheriffs detectives. They were able to track down who it was who shot this video by tracing back through his Facebook account,” said Tony Botti, with the Fresno Sheriff’s Office.
And that lead to the arrests of three suspects: a man, woman, and 14-year-old girl.
Madera police routinely post pictures of people they’ve arrested. And that’s become embarrassing for the suspected criminals.
“We are asked repeatedly not to put them on Facebook. That fear of being put in a very public place has acted as a deterrent for crime and I can’t ask for more than that,” Madera police chief Steve Frazier said.
Frazier says it’s lead to some emails and phone calls from angry friends and family members.
“Our intent is never to ridicule or make light of a situation. But if we can get someone help that they need and prevent a crime, I think that’s a worthy endeavor,” Frazier said.
Their officers have smart phones and they’re learning: a picture is worth a thousand words. Or in the case of the sinkhole on Schnoor avenue, worth close to two million views on Facebook. That one video has gone viral. At last check, it was seen by one-point-eight million people around the world! And the post also helped to warn residents to stay away from that area.
Seeing the reach of social media, the department decided to try it out as a recruiting tool.
They posted the job openings for four new police officers on Facebook.
More than 200 people show up for testing.
And four Madera residents were selected. The department is now putting the four through the police academy.
“Based on the response that we have, we’d be foolish not to go down that road again. And provide an opportunity for more Madera residents to participate in providing security for our community,” Frazier said.
That connection with the community is what drives Clovis police in their social media.
“We needed an avenue to get a hold of the public and get their attention and get their assistance and it kind of grew from there,” said Ty Wood, with the Clovis Police Department.
Wood handles social media for Clovis police. He set up a Facebook page for the department in 2012 to get help from the public in identifying suspects.
The department is also now on Nextdoor and Twitter.
“They told me I need to learn how to tweet,” said Clovis police chief Matt Basgall.
Basgall says social media has given the department ways to communicate with residents that it didn’t have before.
He recently held a live town hall on Facebook Live where he answered questions from residents.
“It was really a positive experience for the police department and the citizens that participated,” Basgall said.
And quite a few participated. More than 19-thousand people were reached with more than 7-thousand Facebook views. And the chief took 400 comments or questions from residents.
Compare that to two traditional town hall meetings last summer which twelve people attended.
“And one thing we got out of that is that we’re going to evolve this into something else. So we’re going to start doing it on a more regular basis. It may be ask a traffic officer today about speeding or whatever it may be,” Basgall said.
Clovis police have also developed their own app to connect you to all of their social media, a crime map, and access to alerts from the department.
“It’s just a one stop shop. We’ve found it’s been really good for our citizens. And we like that at any time we can send an alert and reach out and touch the people that have the app,” said Clovis police Sergeant Jim Munro.
CBS47 and Valley Crime Stoppers have been using this model to help catch suspected criminals and make the valley safer for years.
We partner by showing mug shots of the ‘most wanted’ and the ‘arrest of the day’ each night on Eyewitness News at six and eleven .
The photos are posted online to our website in the Crime Stoppers section…
And to our Valley Crime Stoppers mobile app available on the Apple and Google stores.
And just as social media has grown in popularity with the public, it’s use is expected to grow with law enforcement and improving public safety in the years to come.