Law enforcement agencies utilize social media to connect with public | News

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Earlier this year, two women were arrested for package theft after one had been caught red-handed on video surveillance.

The suspect was identified by the public after still images pulled from the video were posted on a Facebook page.

The proper authorities were notified, police followed up and the second suspect was also identified.

In what has become a growing worldwide trend, law enforcement agencies are receiving tips and valuable information through the vast audience social media commands.

And those agencies aren’t passively waiting for the public to initiate contact.

The Madison County Sheriff’s Office has been utilizing social media for the last decade with both Facebook and Twitter accounts.

But it’s within the last few years that the pages have seen the most activity, and Sheriff Todd Volk said that’s thanks to the efforts of Investigator Jon Downey, who works as the department’s social media coordinator/information technology staff member.

Volk said some of the most popular social media posts are when the sheriff’s office releases warrant lists, complete with mug shots.

“Every time we send one out, we will get numerous calls on some of the faces and names that (Facebook users) see on that list. And even some of the people on the list who haven’t paid attention that they have a warrant out will get a hold of us, and we’ll take care of that situation, too,” Volk said.

CAPT. MIKE BAUER with the Norfolk Police Division said he has seen similar interactions through his department’s Facebook page.

“It’s been an incredible tool when we’ve needed the public’s help. They have been there nearly every time, helping a lot with identification,” Bauer said.

Thanks to surveillance cameras all over Norfolk and inside various businesses, many crimes are caught on video. That doesn’t mean police officers are immediately able to identify person of interest though.

Historically, a photo of such a person might be taken from the video, printed out and put on the back wall of the roll-call room for officers to look at, Bauer said.

But that photo would only be seen by about 50 employees in the building at any given time.

“Now, we’ve been able to take those images to a greater audience through social media, and our community is wonderful. They help us out in getting the people identified so that we can continue in the investigation, whether that be an enforcement action against the person, or they might have been a witness to something,” Bauer said.

Both the sheriff’s office and the police division also use their respective social media accounts to put out public safety messages, including many posts regarding the recent flooding and evacuation events, road closures, power outages and traffic signal issues.

Bauer said the police division’s Facebook page — which has only been up since January of 2018 — has already gained quite a following, with some posts picking up more traction than others.

In fact, a recent post on new car seat regulations was viewed over 5 million times.

“Normally, if we hit 1,000, we’re doing good. This was just a nice little flier that the city made up. … We were surprised — it was just astronomical how many people saw it. That’s more people than in the state of Nebraska,” Bauer said.

He and Volk agreed that most interactions with the public on social media have been positive, though Bauer said a handful of comments violated the City of Norfolk’s Facebook policy and “had to be archived and dealt with.”

THAT POSSIBILITY for negative interactions on social media — especially Facebook — is why Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger said he has yet to set up a page for his department.

“Negative comments are going to be out there, and it’s everybody’s right to say what they want. But a lot of times, (the comments) are so far-fetched and out in left field. But people believe it,” Unger said.

That’s one of the main reasons he personally chooses not to use social media for the sheriff’s office, especially because such an account wouldn’t be able to be monitored full time.

There are proponents in his office for setting up a Facebook page though, and Unger said that while a Facebook account isn’t in the plans, that’s not to say it won’t happen.

“It’s just a real big concern of mine. I’m from the older era of law enforcement, and we have to grow with the times. But it’s difficult,” Unger said.

However, he does make good use of a web page where he said he tries to post anything that’s pertinent to the community. This includes press releases, arrests, requests for information and posts about positive interactions with the public.

Unger said he, too, has had people come in to take care of a warrant if they see themselves on his web site.

Notably, a man from Arizona made the two-day trip to Stanton just last month to clear up a four-year-old warrant he was unaware of that was found by his boss during an internet search.

Like Bauer and Volk, Unger said the biggest reason he uses information sharing through the internet is to make the public aware.

When it comes to press releases and arrest information, Unger said the public should know that these crimes happen in the area, even in small counties like Stanton.

“We do our utmost to catch and arrest those responsible, and we try to prevent it. I want people to know they’re getting their bang for their buck and that we actually are doing something and these things do happen around here,” Unger said.

If there is a crime happening or if someone needs help, all three lawmen strongly encourage the public to directly contact a law enforcement agency by calling or stopping in if they need help or if something is happening the authorities need to be aware of.

“Part of that is because our Facebook page is not monitored 24/7. If you need law enforcement help, call 911 – don’t rely on social media. I’m on (the police division Facebook page) maybe once a day just to check to see what’s going on,” Bauer said.

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