Police and social media can work to help solve cases
KJ Mullins-Toronto: When it comes to tools that law enforcement use to catch criminals social media is in the beginning stages. While some agencies like the Toronto Police Service are using outlets on the Internet more often many who wear a badge are uncertain of this new ‘trend’, questioning if send out a message could really help in solving crimes.
Lauri Stevens, LAwS Communications out of Newbury, Massachusetts, is one of the trailblazers when it comes to social media. Stevens is the creator and producer of The SMILE Conference, an event that showcases how using social media improves law enforcement by engaging citizens.The next conference will take place in March in Vancouver. Aimed at every level of policing the conference gives law enforcement important information as to how to add social media to their agencies. Since 2005 LAwS Communications has been providing media advice to law enforcement. Stevens has been in the interactive media profession for over a quarter of a century. She was a television journalist for 14 years and has been online since before the web existed.
Stevens spoke about social media and the police from her office in Newbury Friday afternoon. She agreed that some law enforcement agencies object to using social media claiming that they don’t ‘get it’and that it’s just a fad. Those objections are starting to lessen with the realization that social media isn’t just a toy but an effective tool that can enhance an agency’s work. Another objection is that it simply costs too much to implement.
“It’s true that some simply don’t have the resources or the money in their eyes to use social media when it comes to policing,” Stevens said adding, “To do social media right it does cost some money up front for the education on what to do. After the learning curve has been achieved though agencies are seeing greater efficiencity.”
Training people to be proficient in social media does cost funds. Seminars like SMILE are not free but those costs are lessen as time goes on. By embracing social media police agencies can help their communities have a way to communicate easily to the police. The world has gotten smaller Stevens noted with the public’s use of social media, people are speaking out more and more engaged with the world around them.
It was at a SMILE conference in 2010 that Peter Stoly, Deputy Chief of the Toronto Police Service, was turned on to the use of social media and policing.
Last summer the TPS started actively training their officers in the use of social media.
“This is an exciting day for us,” Deputy Chief Peter Sloly said, at the launch, which was broadcast live on the Service’s USTREAM account.
Toronto Police Constable Scott Mills has been a driving force behind the use of social media. Mills has been working to bridge communications between Toronto’s youth and the police using social media since 2010 at TPS after years using the tool as part of Crime Stoppers International.
In July Mills stated, “The official launch of training police officers and civilian members of the Toronto Police Service in the effective use of social media to improve relationships and trust between the police and the community in Toronto is a dream come true for me. The purpose and process is now in place for a huge payoff and potential to help stop prevent and solve crime together for our future.”
Mills recently wrote a case study of how Crime Stoppers use of social media was instrumental in finding a missing child who had been allegedly abducted by her non-custodial mother. Young Pearl Gavaghan Da Massa was taken from the UK by her mother at the end of 2009. In 2010 little Pearl was spotted in the Parkdale area of Toronto. With the help of the Toronto Police Service and Constable Scott Mills Pearl’s father Henry Da Massa set up social media accounts in order to find his daughter. By knowing what tools were needed Mills installed a Crime Stoppers Leave a Tip tab on the Missing Pearl Facebook page. Along with the Facebook page was a Twitter account. People, including Parkdale artist Paisley Rae, who posted videos on YouTube about Pearl, started to help look for the little girl. Pearl’s story has a happy ending. She was found in Montreal in September 2011 and is now at home with her father in the UK.
Mills gives credit to an Ontario father, Stephen Watkins, who has used social media as a means of finding his two sons. The boys are part of a parental abduction case as well. Recently the boys were found in Poland. They remain with their mother at this time as per court rulings in Poland but there are appeals in process to bring the children back to Canada.
Social media isn’t just used in the case of missing children. Toronto Police post on their Facebook, Twitter and to a lesser degree Google Plus accounts about crimes that have taken place with phone numbers and other means for the public to assist them. Tips to Crime Stoppers have increased in the past three years about past crimes and warnings about an incident that could be about to happen.
Social media puts a real face on crime in several ways. One is simply connecting to the public in a friendly manner. People ‘friend’ others on sites like Facebook. When an officer is friended he or she becomes part of a person’s ‘inner circle.’ Each ring of the circle may have a clue on various crimes that they are more willing to share with someone they have a connection with.
As Stevens said in closing today, “In the future I believe social media will help to lessen crime because the world is becoming smaller with its use.”