Monday, December 26, 2011

Anonymous Tips Solve Crimes Especially Through Social Media

There was a story last week over at the Maine Public Broadcasting Network that detailed the way police in Maine are using anonymous tips to solve crimes in their communities. From the story:

"We've gotten tips on things like homicides all the way down to panhandlers bothering people," says Portland Police Commander Vern Malloch. His department allows people to text anonymous tips to police. Malloch says that thousands of tips have come through Text-A-Tip more than a year after the program started.

"It's helped us solve other crimes, like burglaries and things like that," he says. "Folks provide the information but don't want to get involved beyond that."

Other departments around Maine are trying to generate tips by harnessing social media such as Facebook. "A lot of what we use it for is if we're looking for a suspect and we have still photographs or something that we're trying to identify," says Andy Robitaille, a crime analyst for the Lewiston Police Department who helps oversee a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and a newly-launched Google+ page.

In the sleepy little burg where I work, we've had good success with using anonymous tipster programs like CrimeStoppers to solicit tips and solve crimes. One use that has been particularly successful is to use CrimeStoppers to locate and arrest wanted fugitives. In fact, in one recent case with had tipsters calling within minutes after posting information about a fugitive on our CrimeStoppers Facebook page.

We'll cross post information about crimes and fugitives on both our agency's Facebook page and the CrimeStoppers page to get the most exposure. These posts are also sent out via our department's Twitter feed.

We've found that using social media to publicize these crimes work well because it often times bypasses the editorial filter imposed by traditional media. This isn't to say that traditional media isn't important but you can't rely on them to place the same importance on your press release about a wanted check forger as you do. On a slow news day they may run a piece on it, but if something bigger happens elsewhere in the world, your press release will likely end up in the trash.

If you have worked to develop an engaging social media presence, your audience will still get the message that you are looking for information on that criminal even if a natural disaster half a world away diverts the attention of your local newsroom.

What are you doing to encourage citizens in your community to provide tips on local crimes and criminals? How do you integrate this into your agency's social media presence?

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