News Column

Social Media Part of Law Enforcement Outreach

March 12, 2013

James Staley

Social media websites provide opportunity. For many people that means a chance to connect with friends and share anything from newborn baby pictures to disappointment about the morning breakfast burrito. No cheese!

For businesses, social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter allow for another portal into the market of potential customers, plus a means for interaction.

That is, generally, how local law enforcement agencies use social media. To a lesser extent, social media can be valuable for investigations and other public safety initiatives.

Between the summer of 2009 and last January, the three most prominent agencies -- Las Cruces Police Department, Dona Ana County Sheriff's Department and New Mexico State Police -- signed up for Facebook pages.

Primarily, officials said, it's a means to communicate with the people their agencies serve.

Wrote sheriff's department spokeswoman Kelly Jameson in an email to the Sun-News: "Overall, the department sees social media as another avenue to connect with people in Dona Ana County."

Officers who want to connect with suspected criminals sometime use Facebook that way too.

"Investigators and police officers will use all methods, including social media," said LCPD spokesman Dan Trujillo, who is one moderator of his department's Facebook account. "If there's a valuable lead, then that can be used."

None of the officials interviewed for this story could recall a closed case in which the use

of social media led to a considerable breakthrough. They declined to comment on any pending cases.

A social media account is often a window to useful information for investigators, containing information about family, friends and hangouts of suspects. "People would be naive to think we don't use it," Jameson said.

New Mexico State University police chief Stephen Lopez said that officers can freely use anything found via a suspect's social media account. If that account is password protected, Lopez added, investigators need a search warrant.

Lopez and Jameson noted that age matters. A social media search that uncovers helpful information typically involves younger suspects.

That's part of the reason, Lopez said, N.M.SU Police plans to join Facebook. It's part of a continuing overhaul to their online presence and communication. Aside from an updated website, N.M.SU police are hoping to implement a text message-to-911 system.

Lopez added such a system would be most valuable in limited situations because of the time delays. One example, he said, was for a person hiding in a closet from a burglar. Texting the situation to 911 would allow them to stay silent while alerting authorities.

The state police's local district doesn't use social media much. Rich Libicer, the district captain, said his officers still find conventional media as an effective communication tool.

The state police's Santa Fe headquarters does maintain a Facebook page, but it's primarily for recruiting, said Lt. Rob McDonald. Social media could be useful, he said, but the state police "doesn't have the manpower" to keep such an account.

The Mesilla Marshal's Department has a similar situation.

Marshal Jeff Gray said that his small department doesn't use social media. That's partly because of the size of the force, but also because "a lot of citizens in Mesilla don't deal with electronics," he said. "They come straight into the office or make a phone call."

LCPD and the sheriff's department, meanwhile, receive plenty of community feedback via Facebook.

For LCPD it got to the point that a moderator posted a reminder on New Year's Eve.

" ... your friendly neighborhood LCPD Facebook administrator does not monitor the page 24-7; if you need police assistance or seek to report a crime, please contact police dispatch."

In other words, Facebook is not a substitute for 911.

Aside from feedback that generated that LCPD response, Trujillo said his department's social media participation hasn't resulted in headaches. LCPD deputy chief Chris Miller set up the account, Trujillo said, in January 2010.

Said Trujillo: "There have been some positive online conversations, if you will, that have been generated because of posts on our page."

Jameson has shared that experience.

Wrote Jameson in an email: "... typically our followers like to send us information on speeders, suspected drug activity in their area, or sometimes we get questions related to community services, like Neighborhood Watch."

James Staley may be reached at 575-541-5476. Follow him on Twitter @auguststaley

File LCPD reports online

LCPD's Citizens Online Police Reporting System can accept reports for lost property, vandalism, theft or larceny, telephone harassment and vandalism to motor vehicles. The reports must be of incidents that occurred within Las Cruces city limits.

If the incident in question is an emergency, or if there is a known suspect or potential crime scene evidence that can be collected, the reporting party should call 911 or 575-526-0795, the non-emergency phone number to Central Dispatch.

The online reporting system can be found on the Las Cruces Police Department's website under the Community Policing tab near the bottom of the page.

Cops on social media

The most prominent local law enforcement agencies all operate social media accounts. To find them, go to Facebook and search for the following agencies.

Las Cruces Police Department

Dona Ana County Sheriff's Department

New Mexico State Police

Other online services

Several local law enforcement and other government agencies use a private company called Nixle to distribute important alerts and advisories, such as road closures and weather events.

For more information go to

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Source: (c) 2013 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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