Avid social media users have been assisting Patterson Police Services with catching ‘bad guys’ and finding lost people for the past couple of years. The most recent incidents occurred last week, when the suspects in an armed robbery were arrested after their photos and a description of the crime were posted on FaceBook. According to Stanislaus County Sheriff Spokesman Raj Singh, the original post was shared almost 1,400 times, and reached an estimated 80,000 people. The first two suspects were apprehended within 24 hours of the post; the third turned himself in less than eight hours later.
Singh said the department received “multiple calls and direct messages with tips”, which can be done anonymously, if the tipster prefers. “It helps,” Singh said, “when (we) have multiple people all give the same names” or other pertinent information. “It makes it much easier to get search warrants, arrest warrants,” and otherwise generally manage an investigation.
The department also posted over the weekend about an elderly man who had gone missing; he was reported safe and on his way home less than 45 minutes later. Regardless of whether the post played a part in the man’s safe return, the knowledge that the online community had been made aware of the situation and could therefore render assistance must have brought a degree of comfort to his concerned family.
Singh, who manages the social media sites for the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office as well as the outlying cities, noted that the response to the armed robbery post was fairly typical. With about 7,900 users actively using the site, “Patterson is one of the most engaged cities in the county,’ Singh said. “It’s a tight-knit community,” he said, adding, “a lot of people want to help. It’s almost like (criminals) are (committing crimes against) your neighbor.” The sites for other cities in the county tend to have far fewer active users: Waterford has 4,700, and Riverbank, 4,400. The sheriff department’s main FaceBook page, by contrast, has about 22,000.
The use of photos, whenever they’re available, can make a definite difference, Singh said. “Sometimes people don’t realize something they saw is important,” and photos boost the possibility of someone coming forward to help solve a crime.
However, Singh warned social media users not to report crimes in progress using FaceBook, as the site is not continuously monitored. Anyone who needs emergency assistance is advised to call 911. Dispatch for non-emergency calls is 552-2468.
Contact Jenifer West at 892-6187, ext. 303, or firstname.lastname@example.org