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SPECIAL REPORT: Posting and the Police

SPECIAL REPORT: Posting and the Police (MGN Online)

Social media has had a major impact on the everyday life in recent years

In just a little more than a decade, the web has evolved from an outlet to get information into an easy way to communicate.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Moniteau County Sheriff Tony Wheatley. " We use it to push out information to the public. But, the public - some of the public uses it against us."

Wheatley referred to social media, and how it can be useful tool in getting the word out from law enforcement to those in the community.

Another mid-Missouri sheriff agreed.

"We get so many tips off of Facebook, it's amazing," Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman said. "And people just giving us drug tips - "Hey, there's a lot of traffic here at my neighbor's house. Can you guys keep an eye on it? Tips like that are very valuable."

However, social media can also be used against law enforcement.

"Recently we've had a bunch of anonymous posts through Facebook stating that we are looking for certain individuals for certain crimes, which we are not," Wheatley said. "They're using it to target people that they don't like."

(Voice of Sheriff John Wheeler, Cole County )¤

"It's not regulated by anybody, so anybody can put anything they want on there," Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler said.

Faulty information and spreading of rumors can hinder investigations, according to law enforcement, especially because of how much extra time it can add to their already busy workload.

"People will get on there [Facebook] and vent and make stuff up, and then the family of whoever we're investigating then will [say] "We saw on Facebook," Wheeler said. "So, now we have to divert resources to go and run down these leads that predominately are false."

Another example of social media working against officers is the alert it might give to potential suspects or persons of interest.

"If we do a search warrant at a property, you can bet that social media will light up shortly after we arrive," Wheatley said. "Then everybody, including other suspects that you may be looking for are tipped off and made aware of what's going on; so it makes it a lot harder for us."

Personal safety of the officers and their families are also at risk due to social media.

A bulletin from the Federal Bureau of Investigation stated "The power of the internet has brought danger homes to officers and their families because constant access to to private information makes it easier for an individual to learn personal facts about an officer."

And can there also be a physical threat through social media?

"Sure, absolutely [there] can," said Capt. Doug Shoemaker with the Jefferson City Police Department. "There are a lot of issues with social media, whether we have maybe threats to somebody else or threats to us. We have the issues with Facebook Live and all the recent tragedies that have occurred with that, and that is certainly the reality in which we live."

Law enforcement have said there isn't an easy solution with how they can deal with social media. In some ways though, it is also on the public to help law enforcement and public safety officers by promoting social media use only when necessary and using it for the good of the community.


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