Uploading photos on Pinterest, sharing tweets and using neighborhood networking websites are typical social activities, but local police are now using it to reunite victims with stolen property, gather evidence to build cases, provide a public platform to track valuables and distribute breaking news.
The Redwood City Police Department announced Monday its new Pinterest account successfully returned stolen jewelry to three different owners, at least two of whom were victims of residential burglaries, Lt. Sean Hart said.
“Hopefully it’s going to continue to be this successful, we’re pretty happy with the way it’s been so far,” Hart said.
Using social media is a more efficient means to distributing and gathering information, Hart said.
“In the past, you’d have to come down to the police station and make an appointment to look at it,” Hart said. “If people came down three or four times and didn’t find their property, it’d get discouraging and they’d give up.”
Being able to identify stolen property during an investigation assists police in building a case against a suspect, said San Mateo police Sgt. Dave Norris.
The San Mateo Police Department has also set up a Pinterest account and, by collaborating with Redwood City police and the Sheriff’s Office, has allowed residents to view stolen items discovered in multiple cities on Pinterest sites, Hart said.
San Mateo police branched out and created accounts on Twitter and Leadsonline. Citizens can keep track their property by uploading photos, receipts, serial numbers and any identifying information about their valuables on Leadsonline, Norris said.
An officer recently approached the department with several bicycles he believed to be stolen but, with no owners to identify them, was having a hard time making a case, Norris said.
“One of the biggest problems law enforcement officers encounter is they make a great proactive stop on a car that has property in it. The officer’s instinct tells them it’s stolen property but, because whoever’s property that it was didn’t have a photo, or receipt … we have a really difficult time returning it,” Norris said. “Social media helps people whose valuables are stolen get reunited with their property; it also helps police officers to make a solid case for prosecution.”
The Bay Area Law Enforcement Social Media Group was created to help get the public engaged and remain vigilant to protect themselves and assist police, Norris said.
The group is comprised of more than 50 agencies representing six Bay Area counties. It allows organizations to follow crime trends, social media techniques, best practices and training programs, Norris said. The concept became so popular, law enforcement agencies across the nation began to create their own groups and use social media platforms, Norris said.
San Mateo police are using Leadsonline to record and search property recovered from secondhand sellers such as pawn shops, shops that buy and sell gold and bicycle stores that buy and sell used bikes, Norris said.
It has also tapped in to Nextdoor.com and is asking the public to contact police if they receive any information regarding crime or safety, Norris said.
Twitter has become a valuable tool and allows them to disperse breaking news, Norris said.
“It’s an enhanced way to communicate with the public,” Norris said. “Being able to put [information] out instantaneously allows us to provide more information and more accurate information faster.”