Crime fighting in the 21st century has taken to social media as a way to get information out to a massive audience, and is also succeeding in helping police catch the bad guys.
While Facebook is a way for most people to stay in touch with friends and family, police in Connecticut are seeing it as useful tool.
"I'd say we've cleared a lot more cases with social media, especially some of our lower crimes,” said Lt. Brett Mahoney, of the Waterford Police Department.
Mahoney said the department launched its Facebook page in 2012, and uses Facebook and Twitter to keep residents informed and plead with the public for help.
"Now we post a picture, and generally within 75 to 80 percent of the time, if we go to that step of posting something on our social media sites, we get an answer," he said.
Coty Prentice was one of the department's first Facebook success stories.
She was working at Dunkin Donuts in late 2012 and became a victim of a ‘smash and grab.'
"I opened my car door and my passenger window was smashed out and my purse was gone,” Prentice said.
Mahoney said Prentice contacted police and he posted surveillance pictures on the department's Facebook page, asking people to keep an eye out for the suspect.
"I thought it was amazing. I share all the posts now, to get it going so people see,” Prentice said.
The post was shared 47 times.
"Within 20 minutes someone said that car you are looking for is at one of our local hotels. She met the officers at the hotel and got her purse back. And all is well, that ends well,” Mahoney said.
In Waterbury, detectives said social media is now a necessary part of their work.
"We've been able to solve several high profile crimes based on social media,” said Waterbury Lt. Mike Slavin.
He added that in the last 10 months, the department has solved at least two dozen cases because of a specific program it uses for Facebook and YouTube.
He said the special software allows the department to edit surveillance video from a crime and share it with officers and citizens, online.
For example, photos were taken from a shootout at Pandora's Cabaret last March.
Right after the incident, it was shared with officers at roll call, and the information was blasted out on Facebook.
"It was viewed almost 30,000 times and it was shared by people with others,” Slavin said. "We were able to identify three of the suspects in the videos from the public and we were able to make arrests in the case.”
Another case, involving a deadly hit-and-run, was solved via social media.
A Waterbury teenager was killed while riding his bicycle back in October.
"It's great, unbelievable the success we've had,” he said.
The tips often pour in after information is posted to Facebook. While some are anonymous, others are not, but they are still helpful.
"It makes our job that much easier where we can clear more cases instead of getting backlogged on cases,” Slavin said. “We enlist the help of the public which is the most important tool we could have honestly and they come through a lot and we solved a lot of cases.”
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