January 27, 2022

Law enforcement using social media as crime-fighting tool

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

From his city hall office, Cortland Police Department Lt. David Guerrera looks at the department’s Facebook page Monday. The department has been using Facebook since 2014 to inform the public of events, street closings, changes in traffic, updates on crime and the new Warrant Wednesday postings, in which a wanted criminal is featured each Wednesday.

With a growing social media presence, Cortland Police Department officers were recently able to solve an investigation within one hour of the time information was posted to Facebook.

This use of social media by police is nothing new, however. City police have been using Facebook and Twitter since July of 2014 to investigate crimes and inform the public, city police Lt. David Guerrera said.

In recent years, social media has been used more to inform the public. Information posted to the police department’s Facebook page and Twitter feed include street closings, changes in traffic, updates on crimes and the new Warrant Wednesday.

Each Wednesday a wanted person is featured on the city police social media pages. The program began around a year ago and features one person with an outstanding warrant each Wednesday, Guerrera said. The wanted individual’s information remains on the page until an arrest has been made.

With more than 400 people on the department’s active warrant list, the program has made apprehending people quicker and easier, Guerrera said.

The first warrant Wednesday used the help of around six people who had “liked” the city’s Facebook page, Guerrera said. Now, more than 5,000 people who have “liked” the page are able to get the word out. “Our reach has grown exponentially,” Guerrera said. “Instead of having 42 officers looking for someone, we now have over 5,000 people on the lookout.”

Since it began the initiative, Warrant Wednesday has led to 30 to 40 percent of people on the active warrant list being apprehended, Guerrera said.

Since it began its social media outreach, the department devoted four officers, including Guerrera, to monitoring it. Just this week, the department sent three more officers to Social Media Investigation School, Guerrera said.

The school teaches officers how to use social media to locate people on the sites and investigate that specific person through their posts, friends and other information posted, Guerrera said.

Another case the police had in which social media pages helped was the stolen American flag taken from a residence on West Court Street on Sept. 4. “Thanks to the page, we were able to reach out to over 10,000 people,” Guerrera said.

Another main purpose of the page, besides expanding policing efforts, is opening up and building a community presence, Guerrera said. The department posted the results of its pill takeback event and highlights of the Tall Cop program for the community to see, he said.

As far as expanding the social media presence, Guerrera said there is always that hope but it is time consuming. Right now, the city police juggle social media. Guerrera hopes that someday the department can hire a full-time officer who’s sole duty would be using these tools, he said.

“This program is great for messaging if people have a question or problem, but it’s not monitored all the time,” Guerrera said.

The Cortland County Sheriff’s Office does not have a social media presence at the moment but is in the process of adding one, Capt. Rob Derksen said.

The county is updating its website and with that the Sheriff’s Office plans to branch off onto social media, including Facebook, within the next 30 days, Derksen said. With social media growing into a preferred method of communication, Derksen said that an increase in apprehending wanted individuals through the use of social media is possible.

State police also use Facebook and Twitter to the same extent as the city police. The agency posts a Warrant Wednesday as well, however, with the state police, each troop posts one wanted individual into an album, which is posted, said Nathan Riegal, public information officer for Troop C in Sydney.

The state police have maintained Facebook and Twitter accounts since 2012 and in 2014 started the Warrant Wednesday, Riegal said.

The state police also post videos and photos to social media to help aid in investigations.

“There definitely has been an increase in community assistance in making arrests (because of social media),” Riegal said.