#WantedWednesday: DMV police departments use social media to help catch criminals

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – Law enforcement saw just how powerful social media can be in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013; police asked the public to send in pictures of the finish line, and those pictures helped identify the Tsarnaev brothers.

Now, investigators in the Washington, D.C. area are discovering that even if a crime doesn’t make headlines, social media can help lead to a prompt arrest.

For many local police departments, each Wednesday is now Wanted Wednesday, or #WantedWednesday on social media. These departments have started tapping into social media, targeting suspects wanted for quality-of-life crimes—robberies, burglaries, credit card thefts—and the response has been dramatic.

Police in the D.C. region are increasingly taking the fugitive search to social media, and are asking for your help. Anne Arundel County Police started Wanted Wednesdays about a month ago, profiling five fugitives a week who wouldn’t necessarily make the news, but who officers want off the streets.

“Ex-girlfriends are probably some of the biggest resources out there,” said AACPD Lieutenant T.J. Smith. “Where a man has wronged his woman in the past and she says, ‘I know where he is, I know where to find him.’”

Police posts on social media are prompting tips, whether they’re from an ex or not. So far, about half of the fugitives profiled in Anne Arundel County have since been arrested.

Last month, Roger Ireland made Wanted Wednesday, and wasn’t happy about it. He told police on Facebook that they’d never catch him; he was locked up the next day.

“Taunting the police is probably not the best strategy if your plan is to stay away from the police,” Lt. Smith said. “He brought a lot of attention to himself, made it easy for us to arrest him.”

Prince George’s County Police pushed a video of a suspect walking out with an entire cell phone accessory tower during a convenience store robbery to their nearly 20,000 Facebook fans and 12,000 Twitter followers. Guess who got busted?

“Seeing that interesting video prompted people to pick up the phone and report this person,” said Julie Parker, a PGCPD spokesperson. “He was then arrested for robbery.”

In three years, Prince George’s County Police have grown their social media presence by 4,000 percent, sparking a spike in Crime Solvers tips; the public seems to like playing social media sleuth.

“It’s probably a great idea,” said Anne Arundel County resident Leagh Pepion. “A lot of the crimes I guess that get committed that don’t make the news, it kinda helps the community stay involved.”

“You can’t have too many eyes out in the public,” said Stephen Wilkinson, who also lives in Anne Arundel County. “Especially nowadays, so many criminals fly under the radar and they need to get caught.”

Anne Arundel County Police say they were surprised to see people responding to their Facebook posts with direct leads to suspects. Many don’t ask for a reward; they just want the suspects off the streets. The department has made t-shirts that say “#SocialMediaSleuths” to hand out.

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