Authorities gain edge with social media

4/20/2013

By ANGIE HAFLICH

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Technology has not only provided law enforcement with a leg up in fighting crime, but video, cell phones and social media also has helped citizens aid in the fight.

According to Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue, a property owner's use of his or her own security system recently helped officers locate a suspect who had allegedly taken scrap iron from the property.

"When we got the report, the property owner told us that there had been some previous incidents of someone taking some scrap iron from the property, so the property owner put what's called a trail camera, normally used by hunters who go out and they want to see if deer is passing by a particular location. It basically takes a picture of movement, so this property owner put one up in the area where he was suspecting that property was being taken," Bascue said.

The property owner recorded the suspect on the trail camera and then called sheriffs officers to report the theft.

"So he provided us with the pictures and it had pictures of the suspect, the vehicle, the trailer, the tag number and everything. It was awesome," Bascue said. "I mean we don't normally get that kind of stuff gift-wrapped for us like that."

Sheriff's deputies subsequently ran the tag number of the vehicle, located the registered owner and visited the suspect's residence.

"When we got there, we saw the vehicle with the tag number, we saw the trailer that was in the picture, as well, knocked on the door and said, 'We need to talk to you about taking scrap iron that didn't belong to you. We've got your vehicle, we've got your trailer, all that stuff on camera, and the exact time and everything,' and the person said, 'You got me,'" Bascue said.

He said that the trail camera is one type of technology being used by citizens to help law enforcement with identification and apprehension.

"That technology isn't going to necessarily stop someone from breaking into your house, but if they do, you have the picture or video of them that will be helpful in their capture," Bascue said.

Sgt. Michael Reagle of the Garden City Police Department said the Tip411 program, sponsored by Crime Stoppers, allows users to send anonymous crime tips either through email or by texting the word GCTIP and their tip information to 847411 (tip411). This allows police to send a return text, creating a two-way anonymous chat. Tipsters who send information through the website are given a code that enables them to log back into their tip to see if the GCPD has sent a request for additional information.

"The only way I know I can communicate with them is if they log back in with that number," Reagle said.

All tips received through Tip411 are anonymous. Technology removes all identifying information before the police department receives it, so there's no way to identify the sender.

Reagle said that when a tip is received, sergeants and commanding officers receive notification emails that they can then respond to, and through the online system, photos can also be uploaded.

"Pictures are great, especially if it's someone we're looking for," Reagle said.

He said people are slowly starting to utilize the Tip411 program to assist police.

"Its a new technology for us, but it's also a new technology for the community itself — to know it's there and to use it, to think about using it," Reagle said. "We try not to overwhelm people with it. We try to keep it to those things that we definitely need some help with — not necessarily things that we deem more important — but things that we think the community would be a good resource to help us solve the particular issue that we're dealing with."

Because the program is sponsored through Crime Stoppers, Reagle said that, in some cases, tipsters can be eligible for rewards.

"Rewards vary depending on the type of case," he said. "Crime stoppers makes that determination."

He said the Tip411 program is for non-emergency situations only.

"We do not want anyone to put 911-related information through this. This is for non-emergency only. If it's an emergency, we still want them to call 911, because there is a delay (through Tip411)," Reagle said.

Also available through the GCPD's website is a link to crime alerts, a network the GCPD uses to update people on crimes, emergencies and other important information. People who sign up for it can receive text alerts, email alerts or both.

Last week, the GCPD utilized the alert system, www.citizenobserver.com, to seek assistance from the community in identifying a man they are seeking on allegations of burglary and unlawful use of a credit card, and surveillance cameras from local businesses allowed police to upload photos of the suspect.

Tips can be submitted by going to the GCPD website, www.gcpolice.org and clicking on "Submit a Tip." To sign up for alerts, click on the "Crime Alerts" link.

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