LIMA — Members of law enforcement in Allen, Auglaize and Putnam counties agree social media helps them fight crime by working to get information out at a fast rate that a mass audience can view. In return, social media users provide tips at a faster rate, helping solve crimes quicker.
Victoria Gonzalez, administrative and public information officer assistant for the Allen County Sheriff’s Office, was hired last September to help with the office’s Facebook account. The office first started out with 11,000 Facebook followers and has now grown to 15,000 users, Gonzalez said.
Allen County Sheriff’s Office first started using Facebook to communicate with the public in 2012. That was underutilized, and in April 2017 Sheriff Matthew Treglia wanted the social media account to be more active. The department had several meetings about how to reach the public more effectively using Facebook, said Lt. Andre McConnahea, Allen County Sheriff’s Office public information officer.
Kaity Weidman, Lima Police Department patrolman, is part of a social media team that communicates with the public using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts that have been in existence since 2014. LPD currently has 37,000 Facebook followers, 10,000 Twitter followers and more than 2,200 Instagram followers.
Helps solve theft crimes
Facebook offers an opportunity for law enforcement to post photos and video surveillance showing people of interest committing crimes, such as thefts and burglaries. Because of social media, the time it takes to get an identity of the person committing a crime is shortened, as social media users view the information at a faster rate, Gonzalez said.
“Using Facebook and posting surveillance videos, people in the videos committing crimes can be identified by those who see the videos on Facebook within hours,” Gonzalez said.
She said videos allow social media users to see exactly what law enforcement sees, including mannerisms, which in return leads to more tips on who the person is on the surveillance video.
McConnahea said surveillance photos posted on social media help identify suspects even if they are grainy or pixelated. Social media users have identified those who have committed crimes within hours or sometimes minutes.
“Almost 99 percent of the time, the people who committed the crimes are identified using the images within minutes. If someone knows a person, they know them,” McConnahea said.
An example of where social media helped solve a theft in Lima is when the sheriff’s office posted a photo on its Facebook of a surveillance photo of a man on a cell phone at the Lima Mall who was attempting a burglary at a kiosk. Law enforcement from the area where he is from recognized him on the Facebook post and alerted Allen County law enforcement.
Putnam County Sheriff Brian Siefker said social media is a useful tool for those in law enforcement. He and a team of three employees make posts. The Putnam sheriff’s office also posts photos of people with warrants on social media where the community provides feedback about the person’s whereabouts.
The Kalida Police Department recently posted photos of damage that was done by vandals in the restrooms at Kalida Park that led to tips within 24 hours of who committed the crimes by someone who knew they were in the park at the time within a day.
Ottawa Police Department Officer Shane Vance was instrumental in getting the department’s Facebook active in January 2018 that now has more than 1,000 followers. There was a robbery at Walmart, and the department had trouble identifying the subjects. The department posted surveillance photos and video of the subject on Putnam County Sheriff’s Office Facebook and were able to get leads to identify who the suspects were.
Vance approached his lieutenant about Ottawa PD developing a Facebook page, and it was approved. The police department averages 20 to 30 people who reach out who know a suspect of a post, and within two days a suspect is located, Vance said.
“Approximately 75 percent of cases where there are suspects photos posted, they are identified, and that helps close the case or send it to the prosecutor,” Vance said.
Allen Solomon, Auglaize County’s sheriff, said the department implemented its Facebook page in 2013 and had a small following at the start. It now has grown to more than 5,000 followers. The office has the capability of posting videos of those who have committed crimes that the public has identified. The office also has received submitted videos from the public of people committing crimes.
“A video provides visual proof and helps law enforcement in knowing how to question a subject instead of a he said she said situation,” Solomon said.
In Auglaize County, there was a road rage incident video posted on the department’s Facebook page that occurred in front of a residence, and a Facebook user identified the subjects in the video.
“We used that tip to further investigate the case and come to a resolution,” Solomon said.
Missing persons, warrants
Allen County’s sheriff’s office works with detectives to post photos and information about a missing person on Facebook, asking for the public’s help in locating the person, Gonzalez said. The post includes information on the last place the missing person was seen or if there was a suspect that can be put out on Facebook.
Social media can also be used to help reunite missing children with their parents within hours after a Facebook photo of the missing child in posted.
Weidman said there have been instances of children who are lost, don’t know where they live and have been discovered by law enforcement. Law enforcement can post the child’s photo on social media to help the community identify the children.
“When we post a photo of a missing child on our social media page, there are hundreds of shares in minutes, and we have not left a child’s photo on Facebook for longer than 10 minutes before they have been identified,” LPD’s Weidman said.
LPD has a Warrant Wednesday, where it posts on social media that day people who have warrants. The department also posts press releases on its social media page during breaking news events when there is a shooting or robbery.
McConnahea said the office still uses mainstream media such as television and newspapers to get information out because not everyone uses Facebook.
Siefker said when there are missing persons cases that might involve other states, the office can contact offices in other states to have the missing person photo posted on their social media page.
Solomon urged people if they have urgent information to call 9-1-1 to make reports, but said Facebook provides a quick avenue to provide tips. He said the department posts information on missing persons that helps locate those people by the community providing tips.
Alerts about weather, roads
Once law enforcement had media as the only source to communicate weather warnings and road conditions, but Facebook can reach a mass audience warning people of inclement weather by working with the National Weather Service to inform the public.
“With the amount of shares and comments about the weather, it can go viral in Allen County, and people are tagged in posts,” Gonzalez said.
She is working on summer Facebook campaigns, such as creating posts reminding residents to stay alert to motorcycles, kids at play and how to stay cool in the heat.
“Social media not only allows us to interact with the community, but to also help educate and provide safety reminders to the community,” Gonzalez said.
Siefker said Putnam County has had a lot of high water the past few years, and social media allows law enforcement to provide continuous updates on flood conditions and road closures.
Auglaize County works with EMA to alert the community about weather warnings and conditions before the incidents occur and information on how residents can plan safety measures.
“With Facebook, we can partner with media to get weather information out quicker to people, and when we can educate the public it’s a positive thing,” Solomon said.
In a world where crimes occur at a minute’s notice, social media can be used to post at a moment’s notice, providing details in which the public can help law enforcement solve crimes.
“Once we put a Facebook post out there, it’s immediately exposed to our 15,000 Facebook followers. It’s a great way to immediately get an important message out there, and you can’t get that in today’s world where people have that need where they want information immediately,” Gonzalez said.
Siefker said using social media in law enforcement is a quick method to communicate with the community that gets information out right away.
Gonzalez has attended and will attend more social media training for law enforcement, where she and others who post information on law enforcement sites are educated on how to effectively make social media posts on behalf of law enforcement.
“We are educated on how to make posts that are accurate and consistent, especially when informing the public about a disaster,” Gonzalez said. She said law enforcement works with television stations and newspaper media to also post their stories on their page that can be shared by social media users to reach a larger audience.
She does a lot of research to make sure the information she posts on the sheriff’s office’s social media is relevant to the community.
Solomon said the benefits of social media are not only immediacy but for users to share important information that gets more eyes on the information in a short period of time. It also provides an avenue for users to scroll back through postings to see what has been going on in their communities as far as crimes.
Social media is a a way for law enforcement to share with the community about awareness weeks and to introduce new employees to the community. Allen County Sheriff’s Office posts employee profiles with photos of new employees to help the community become acquainted with those they serve.
“It’s important for the community to know our deputies and officers are people too, and they have lives outside of this job,” Gonzalez said.
Facebook also is used to post available job openings at the department and include qualifications. Social media is used by law enforcement to look into posts by potential employees and also a method to post employee retirements.
Putnam County Sheriff’s Office uses its social media page to promote Motorcycle Awareness Month and encourage people to keep their grass clippings off the roadways. In the fall, it alerts residents that farm equipment is out and to drive with caution. The department also posts school bus safety information on social media to remind drivers to pay attention to school buses.
Auglaize County Sheriff’s Office uses its social media page to inform the community when their employees receive awards.
Future of social media
As the way social media users communicate with one another constantly changes, law enforcement said they see social media growing even bigger.
Gonzalez said she hopes to create a second Facebook page at some point to help communicate with a younger audience who use Twitter and Instagram.
Siefker said he seeks an even bigger future for social media.
“Everyone is looking at their phones nowadays and seeing what is on social media and what people are sharing and what’s going on, so I see it expanding even bigger than what it is now. It is a good tool,” Siefker said.
Solomon also expects to see continued use by law enforcement. Weidman said she feels social media will continue to be an effective way to get information out quickly and help solve crimes through the public’s help.
Reach Jennifer Peryam at 567-242-0362.