PUBLIC ON PATROL: Posting to get perps

Neighbours are turning to social media to clean up their communities. Although it has worked in many cases, the trend is far from perfect.

Social media has become a useful tool in sharing information related to crime

FIFTH IN A SERIES: As news surrounding Surrey’s RCMP dominates headlines, we look at different ways residents are helping make our city safer. Click here to read part four.

 

SURREY — When her daughter’s bike was stolen from her front porch in the Clayton area last summer, Kari Simpson reported it.

But not through the police – through Facebook.

That was Friday night and by Sunday at 2 p.m., the child was reunited with her bike.

“We had a bunch of people saying, ‘Oh no, sorry to hear this, this has been happening way too often,” she said.

People posted pictures of bikes they’d come across, asking if was her daughter’s, she recalled.

“Then on Sunday, someone said I found a white bike with grey writing and pink on it,” said Simpson, wife of the Now’s editor. “So I rushed over and got it. Somebody basically stole it, I think, just to get home in time for a curfew.”

Now, the Facebook group Simpson used to report the stolen bike is a place her family goes to get recommendations for things like carpet cleaners and babysitters.

“And I also like to use it to know what’s going on in the neighbourhood. If there are helicopters out, I pop on there and there’s tons of information.”

Though a helpful asset, she said a lot of people take to the group posting immature or ignorant comments. So it’s often a matter of wading through information to find what you’re looking for.

Fellow Clayton resident Amanda Stewart started the Facebook group – Clayton, BC Neighborhood Parents and Community – in 2010.

Initially a group for parents to connect, it evolved into a neighbourhood group.

Today, it has more than 2,000 members and people use the group to recommend businesses, post about events also to report crime.

“Crimes have always been a subject on the page,” said Stewart. “There is also a Clayton Block Watch page as well. But we make sure that reports are reported on both pages.”

Stewart said she ensures that photos of people aren’t posted, and instead ask people to keep those for police.

“Also we make sure that any posts put up have also been reported to the RCMP or non-emergency line,” she added.

The Facebook group has been successful in some instances, she noted, recalling when a man named Jason was lurking around the neighbourhood. He has popped up several times over the last year or so and police have been involved. He received a fine in 2014 for bothering residents.

“Sharing about Jason is a big thing on the page as he has had issues with taking money from kids and older residents as well as coming to peoples’ back and front doors at all hours of the night looking for money,” said Stewart.

The group has also been successful in helping to locate stolen items taken from peoples’ yards, such as in Simpson’s case, she said.

“Recently, a car was stolen and the belongings were dumped in an area, with the post of someone and a photo of the belongings they were identified and returned to the owner,” said Stewart.

But it isn’t without its drawbacks, “with people always complaining or starting issues with others,” she noted.

“With over 2,500 people now in our group it can get time consuming to manage,” said Stewart.

Janine Elston is a member of the group and through it, she said she learned about burglaries happening in the early morning.

“This helped me to take proper precautions,” Elston remarked.

“Having said that, there seems to be so much negative, harassment stories, bullying and small crime that I am now made more aware of. Which I’m not necessarily sure is a good thing. Sometimes it makes it look like this is such a high spike… while realistically I’m sure this stuff happens all the time in any neighbourhood or back in the day before social media.”

Lisa Eason, communications and new media manager for Surrey RCMP, oversees the detachment’s social media accounts, first launched in late 2012.

Facebook and Twitter have aided in many cases, said Eason.

“We’ve had a lot of instances where people have identified suspects,” she said.

Posts about suspects, such as robbers, tend to go viral, getting lots of shares and retweets.

“We certainly do get tips from social media about who these people are and where they may be residing. It’s helped us solve active investigations,” she told the Now.

Missing persons investigations also tend to receive help via social media, particularly Facebook.

But social media has certainly created some challenges for police here in Surrey, Easton revealed.

The recent dramatic scene in Newton after a botched robbery at TD Canada Trust, case in point.

“A lot of people on social media were thinking it was a hostage situation,” said Eason. “That was one recent example of where rumours can get a bit out of hand on social media.”

The demand for information is instant, yet it takes police time to verify facts in order to release statements, Eason explained.

In the case of the bank robbery, it turns out there were no hostages after all.

Then there’s issues with people sharing information about an incident and no one reporting it to police at all.

“Last year, there was a situation where people were talking on social media about what sounded like a fairly serious (alleged assault) incident. The only reason we got looped in was because people were asking what we were doing about this,” said Eason. “Once we looked into it, it turned out nobody had even reported it yet.”

She emphasized the importance of reporting to police.

“Our social media is not monitored 24/7, generally Monday to Friday from 8 to 4. If it’s an emergency, you of course need to call 911. When it’s a non-emergency you still need to call us. We can’t get all the information we need in 140 characters.”

The non-emergency line is 604-599-0502.

If anonymity is a concern, there’s always Crime Stoppers, Eason noted, at 1-800-222-TIPS or Solvecrime.ca.

“You can even text,” she added.

Despite some challenges, Eason pointed to the many benefits of social media from a policing perspective.

Surrey RCMP use it as a tool to answer questions and send out information related to things like crime trends, upcoming events, crime prevention and more.

They also monitor social media for tips and feedback, she said.

“We want to see what people are saying about the detachment. If they have concerns they haven’t called us about, maybe if there’s crime trends in their area.”

Eason said she sees social media as an evolution  information sharing.

“We’ve gone from having a wanted poster back in the day to having the police blotter column to media releases and now we’ve added social media into our bag of tricks.”

With files from Tom Zytaruk

 

NEXT WEEK: In the sixth and final part of our series,Tom Zytaruk looks at the history and the dangers of vigilantism.

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