A website used by millions of people to upload photos, share links and connect with friends and family is now being used by the Beaufort Police Department to locate suspects, solve crimes and connect with the community.
About a year ago, officers turned to the popular social networking web site Facebook initially to interact with Beaufort-area residents. Officers have since cultivated an online following that has led to tips and arrests, said Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy.
"We realized that there is a large segment of the population that does not use the traditional media outlets, and we wanted to be able to reach them," Clancy said. "It allows us to put out information that is useful to a particular neighborhood that might not be newsworthy enough to make the regular media."
Each day, the department posts short updates about recent arrests, trends in local crime, and photos of wanted suspects, as well as of officers on and off duty.
Given the sensitive nature of police work and the heated debates that typically accompany stories about local crime, Clancy said he initially was reticent to launch the department's page.
"My concern at the outset was that some people might post inappropriate comments regarding suspects or try to argue with each other like you see on some blog sites," Clancy said. "This has only happened a couple of times and we were able to remove the comments quickly."
The page has since become a useful community outreach and crime-fighting tool as was the case recently with a forgery scam in downtown Beaufort, said Investigator George Erdel, who monitors the department's Facebook page.
Erdel said Facebook lead to the arrest of a man who was offering to wash cars downtown, and was stealing and forging checks he found inside vehicles.
"After putting his mug shot on Facebook ... we were inundated with calls from other victims that we hadn't yet identified and got information on his location that led to his arrest," said Erdel. "We're able to dissemination information a lot more quickly. We have gotten tips generated by Facebook where someone sees a wanted person and either calls the tip line or the investigator directly."
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.