Social media helping police catch criminals

May 29, 2013 7:40:09 AM PDT
Social media is no longer just about keeping in touch with family and friends. For law enforcement agencies, the reach of websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is providing a valuable tool to catch bad guys before they strike again.

The suspect was on a bank-robbing spree that started in Louisiana. He hit banks in Beaumont, Galveston and Conroe. When he robbed the Whitney Bank of Highway 59, his surveillance photos were posted online by the Rosenberg Police Department within 90 minutes. And citizens started providing tips.

"We had put the information up. We were contacted immediately, not just by people from Rosenberg, but people throughout the region, who were giving us tips about who the suspect may be," Rosenberg Police Department Lt. Aaron Slater said.

The suspect was eventually arrested, with the social media tips playing a large role.

The Rosenberg Police Department has 70 officers patrolling a town of about 35,000 people in 39 square miles. Social media is helping to increase their presence.

"We would be ignorant to believe that the police department alone can solve all the issues. What we really like to do with it is increase our eyes and ears," Slater said.

And the eyes and ears are utilizing the real time information via their smart phones.

"I think it's great to know what's going on at the moment. I think that's wonderful, because as moms we are always checking what's going on and I think, the other night I saw that there was a crime in progress. So I like knowing what's happening when it's happening and not hearing about it the next day," social media user Brandi Poss said.

Crime has decreased by 27 percent in Rosenberg during the last four years, and with social media as a new weapon, officers hope that trend continues.

"What better way to have communication, constant communication, 24/7, town hall meeting, if you would say, than through social media. It costs nothing and the return is so great," Slater said.

The police department also features a "tweet along," which allows anyone to hear and see what happens in real time as an officer patrols on his shift. A second person will tweet photos and videos of everything that happens on the shift, real time giving someone the experience of riding along with an officer.

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