Ben McClellan, 29 February 2016

Social media has entrenched itself as a highly productive digital arm of law enforcement with one police command reporting its Facebook page helped it identify a quarter of offenders’ images posted online.

From posting images of people wanted over crimes ranging from break and enters to sexual assaults, to helping locate missing people the success of the NSW Police Force’s Facebook page and the pages of local area commands has been “unprecedented”, according to Director of Public Affairs Strath Gordon.

The NSW Police Facebook page, which started in 2010 and passed 600,000 likes over the weekend, is reaching more than a million people a day. The pages of the state’s local area commands have roughly the same combined following. The NSW Police Twitter account has nearly 40,000 followers and its Instagram account has more than 23,000.

Lake Illawarra police posted 62 photos of people wanted for questioning in 2015 with 16 identified via its Facebook page. This success rate of 25 per cent saved police resources looking for the alleged crooks by traditional means.

HUNTING

Earlier this month Tweed Heads Police posted an image of a woman wanted over stealing from a telecommunications business. The information received from its Facebook page led to the arrest of a 19-year-old as well as a man, 23, days later.

In October last year police posted an image of a teen who allegedly pointed a cap gun at a Central station train staff. From comments made in the post police were able to identify the alleged offender and contact his mother leading to the charging a 16-year-old boy.

In Wagga last July a train passenger recognised a man wanted for break and enters, took a photo of the teen and uploaded it to Facebook. Police arrested the 18-year-old at Cootamundra train station.

To engage a sometimes fleeting online audience police have also used a lighthearted approach in their appeals. In March last year Macquarie Fields Police posted an image of man wanted over the theft of fuel from a petrol station.

They dubbed him the “Minto Mullet” with Detective Sergeant Rod Cutler saying he was also wanted for “hairstyle crimes”.

“Just as the vehicle is a 90s model, the male driver has had a bit of a throwback to the 90s with a mullet style haircut — business on top and party at the back,” Sgt Cutler said.

“We are keen to keen to speak to the male both about the petrol theft and his associated hairstyle crimes.”

In the last month the NSW Police Facebook page received 21,000 likes from its posts each day with 4597 daily comments and its posts shared 5700 times a day.

“These pages have given us a contact with the community that is unprecedented. What we continue to find is the community wants to help,” Mr Gordon said.

“Social media gives them that real opportunity to help police in a number of ways, finding missing people, contributing information that may help in a crime being solved. Also in emergency situations people engage with us strongly.

“We’ve had posts seeking help that have reached five million people, that’s very powerful for us.”

Mr Gordon said when people saw their contributions had results via social media it encouraged them to report crimes.

“The more confidence people have in the job police are doing the greater the likelihood they will report crime,” he said.

“We’ve had examples when people see their images and come forward. You think how much police time is saved when people hand themselves in after seeing their images doing the rounds on Facebook

“While we continue to expand our social media presence we still want people to report crime in the traditional way using the phone, using triple 0 or Crime Stoppers. It’s our preferred way.”

NSW Police Facebook success stories include identifying 16 out of 62 people wanted for questioning whose photos were posted by Lake Illawarra police in 2015. And in October last year police were able to find and charge a 16-year-old who allegedly pointed a cap gun at Central train station staff by posting the teen’s image.

Extracted in full from the Daily Telegraph.

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