Sanford Police Det. Sgt. Matt Jones scrolls through the department’s Facebook page Tuesday. Officers in Sanford and other jurisdictions say social media has been a useful tool for law enforcement.

Sanford Police Det. Sgt. Matt Jones scrolls through the department’s Facebook page Tuesday. Officers in Sanford and other jurisdictions say social media has been a useful tool for law enforcement.

YORK COUNTY — A Sanford police investigation into a store robbery was going cold. The case was a month old, and the suspect in video surveillance had his face so well masked that identifying him was all but impossible.

But then, said Det. Sgt. Matt Jones, they got a tip.

“(The caller) said, ‘I hate to say it, but I think it’s my son,’” Jones recalled.

This still image from video surveillance, posted on the Sanford Police Department’s Facebook page, shows a man attempting to rob the Super 8 Motel in Sanford Nov. 24. While Facebook has proven invaluable to police departments in York County in identifying those wanted in connection with various crimes, so far, no one has been charged in this case.

This still image from video surveillance, posted on the Sanford Police Department’s Facebook page, shows a man attempting to rob the Super 8 Motel in Sanford Nov. 24. While Facebook has proven invaluable to police departments in York County in identifying those wanted in connection with various crimes, so far, no one has been charged in this case.

The man had viewed the photo on the police department’s Facebook page.

Social media could be called the high-tech version of the “wanted” poster, as law enforcement agencies across the nation increasingly add social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to their investigative tool kits.

Jones said Sanford police sometimes debate whether to post information about crimes on social media in the event a suspect gets savvy and goes underground. Generally though, he called its effectiveness “fantabulous.”

Saco police use Twitter and Facebook and are looking into Instagram, said Acting Deputy Police Chief Corey Huntress. The agency also uses an app that can be found under “Crime Tips” on the left side of its Facebook page; for mobile devices, a free app can be downloaded by searching for “My Police Department” or “MyPD” in the iPhone and Android marketplace. Once downloaded, said Huntress, tipsters simply navigate to Saco police.

When a Saco man, James Dyer, went missing in Portland on New Year’s Day, Saco police quickly posted a photo of him on Facebook, along with information about where he was last seen. Eager to provide whatever help they could, viewers shared the posting, which eventually reached 139,122 people, said Huntress.

The man was still missing as of press time today, but Facebook has been “a phenomenal tool in this particular case,” said Saco Police Chief Brad Paul.

The York County Sheriff ’s Department is also using social media as part of the investigative process. Early in January, York County Sheriff ’s deputies posted a surveillance photo of two men they called “persons of interest” in a theft case in Limerick. According to Sheriff Bill King, 94,272 people were reached through the posting, and it was shared 1,526 times by readers.

“We had their identities in a couple of hours,” King said .

While social media can be a valuable tool to identify crime suspects, it also serves another purpose.

It can spread the word about a snow parking ban, a missing person, road conditions or fun things, such as when Saco police posted pictures of youngsters delivering socks they’d collected for senior citizens.

In Sanford, said Jones, police received a report of a missing woman who was potentially in crisis last year. Police scoured the area and posted to Facebook. Minutes later, comments began flowing in that she had been seen at a local coffee shop.

Police checked the location, and while she wasn’t at the shop at the time, employees told police she had been there for most of the day. Early the following morning, patrol officers found the woman and returned her safely home.

“Video is extremely helpful,” said Jones. “People get a real-life look” at what has transpired.

For example, he said, a video of detectives in a cruiser reporting on road conditions as they rode around the city last winter, when snow storms were frequent and snow banks were high, got lots of views, and lots of shares.

“The public loved them,” said Jones.

While no one has yet been charged in the case, an attempted robbery of a Sanford motel in November was posted on Facebook and picked up by an entity called liveleak.com. That prompted a call from the “Nancy Grace” television show and an interview about the attempted robbery.

“We post feel-good stories, parking bans, identify theft, and the comments we’ve gotten are positive comments,” said Huntress. “And if you’re looking for a suspect in a case, it is a quick way to get that information and to involve the public in taking back their communities.”

Within minutes of posting about an individual who had recently walked away from a nursing home, Saco police were getting calls, said Paul.

Readers can simply click the “share” key to pass on information to their own Facebook friends or respond with a comment, private message or use a department’s “text a tip” function to get information back to police.

As well as Facebook, Sanford police use tipsoft.com, an anonymous weband text-based tip system, said Jones. Folks can go online to the tip website and click on submit a tip, or text “crimes” at 274637.

Police caution, however, that they don’t have the resources to monitor social media 24-7, so folks who need to report a crime should call 911.

King said he is amazed by the response the sheriff ’s office gets to its social media postings.

“It really is community policing,” said King. “This is the neighborhood meeting in the 21st century.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]


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