A few years ago, I was commanding a large tactical unit that consisted of two undercover teams. One of the teams had just located a vicious homicide suspect, and they desperately needed the other team to help in the surveillance and capture. That incident presented me with a choice. I could call a slew of numbers or better yet, Facebook the officers and tell them to contact me immediately.
Unbelievable as it may sound, this was probably the first recorded tactical law enforcement call-out conducted over Facebook. Even though I rarely use Facebook, I knew my officers did and better yet they monitored it. The call-out was successful and the suspect was apprehended.
Social media can also be used to help find missing persons. Let's say you're taking a missing persons report where the missing person could be in critical danger if not found. One quick way to get out the information would be for you to photograph the person's picture with your cell phone and upload it to Facebook.
My department's Facebook page has more than 20,000 active followers. And after posting missing person items, we have actually had citizens get into their vehicles and look for the missing person. Talk about a force multiplier.
Posting photographs from a crime scene can also be useful, if the picture is booked and part of the case. But be careful with this. Some officers have been disciplined, fired, and even sued for posting inappropriate pictures of crime victims on social media sites.
Michael Doyle is a lieutenant in California with more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement. He has been a public information officer for six years and is currently in charge of a large tactical unit.