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UI police use social media to catch criminals

BY JORDYN REILAND | MAY 07, 2012 6:30 AM

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Law-enforcement officials across the state say they are starting to catch on to social media and its benefits in catching criminals.

The University of Iowa police uploaded six surveillance photos last week on their Facebook page of two males stealing a bike earlier this month near Art Building West. UI police officials have not caught the two bike thieves yet but said social media have proven to be useful in other instances.

"We're trying to solve crimes, and we're hoping to get the info out of all sorts of people, and this is just one way," said Dave Visin, an associate director of the department.

UI police started using Facebook in September 2010 for a primarily informational purpose. Yet after a Sept. 18, 2011, alleged attack on a police officer, officers found social media could be used for catching criminals.

UI crime-prevention specialist Alton Poole said the use of social media in the law-enforcement setting will only become more popular.

"I believe using social media will be an application that will be used frequently by police agencies," he said.

The Iowa City police have a Facebook page as well, but because they deal with a larger demographic than do the UI police, city police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said they have not done as much with social media.

"That may not be a means for us right now because we have a broader population to reach," she said.
Visin said police officials will adapt to the technology as time goes on.

"I think as cultures change and as we change, police departments will have to adapt," he said.

Iowa City is not the only location looking toward social media.

Earlier this week, the Des Moines police caught a burglar through social media. Des Moines police officials said Kathy Smith — a frequent viewer of the department's Facebook page — recognized a man who she thought was one of the men posted on the page.

This case was the second known instance of the department using social media, said Des Moines Sgt. Vincent Valdez.

Valdez said the police began using the Internet to catch criminals in April, and they are seeing results.

"It is effective in getting our message out and asking the public for their help in solving crimes," he said.

The Des Moines police follow a city-wide social media code in which they do not advertise or express personal opinions on the page.

Valdez said he thinks law-enforcement officials will continue to use social media as an aid to solve crimes.

"It has become very popular in the law enforcement community," he said. "There have been police departments using it all over the country before us."


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