Police use social media to solve crimes

From good old detective work to canine units and now through clicks of a keyboard, police are employing new techniques to fight crime. Thanks to the growing popularity of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, police departments locally and across the country are getting creative when it comes to solving crimes.

What may have seemed unconventional just a few years ago is now becoming standard practice for many police agencies like the Utica Police Department . The force launched its first Facebook account a week ago, and it's already working.

As of noon Monday, 229 people were getting updates from Utica police on Facebook. Recently, officers used the page to search for a man who was trapped in an elevator at the Kennedy Plaza Apartments during a fire. They were able to find him by getting the word out online.

The department's page includes links for people to submit anonymous tips and complaints about neighborhood problems. Often times, police say people are scared to come forward. They hope tapping into social media will make people more inclined to divulge information. "Its gives people an outlet. People feel more secure with a computer than they would calling," Sgt. Steve Hauck, Public Information Officer for Utica Police told CNY Central by phone. "It's one more outlet for people to reach out to us."

The department plans to launch its Twitter site after the first of the year.

Utica police certainly aren't alone in using social networking websites to fight crime. In Ohio, Hamilton police posted a picture of a wanted criminal of Facebook . They arrested the suspect five days later.

In fact, it's so widespread that the International Association of Chiefs of Police now hosts a seminar to teach police agencies how to utilize "new media" like YouTube , Facebook , Twitter , texting and blogging.

Meanwhile, some criminals are actually making it very easy for police to catch them thanks to social media sites . Like one man who was on the run and essentially turned himself in by posting where he worked on his MySpace and Facebook pages. Then there was the guy convicted of killing his friend. He posted pictures of the friend on his MySpace page next to the words "rest in peace" hours before his death was even reported to police.

Back here locally, other agencies like Marcellus police are working to launch their own Facebook pages. They've seen the success of other deparment Facebook pages like the one Cicero launched a while back. It already has more than 1,000 followers.

It's yet another media avenue, they realize, to help fight crime in a new era where tips often come in through the click of a mouse.