By Brenda Flanagan
From the scary late-night side-swipe in Upper Freehold…
“It makes everyone gasp — and it should,” said Sgt. Jeff Flynn.
To the grinch who allegedly pinched holiday packages off people’s porches in Pilesgrove to the purported Millstone burglars caught on camera and busted online, the cases posted on Facebook by New Jersey State Police get thousands of hits, hundreds of tips and enough solid leads to generate arrests, says Flynn.
“It’s sort of like a neighborhood watch. It’s just on a cyber level,” he said. “Social media is really a phenom right now. It’s embedded in every aspect of our society. People are getting their news from social media.”
Flynn runs the State Police Facebook page. When he posts a new case, Flynn adds photos and videos and asks for the community’s support. It’s almost like rounding up the local posse.
“It gets really good response. People really want to get involved. People care about their communities. And when we ask for their assistance, they feel like they’re helping us out — and they want to,” he said.
Here’s one: woman in a photo withdraws $10,000 in cash from a bank in South Jersey. Except — police say — it wasn’t her bank account. Flynn posted pics and asked for help.
“We got flooded with tips and as a result of all those contributions, we were able to quickly ID her,” Flynn said.
“For at least the last 10 to 12 years, social media has become a big part of what law enforcement does on a daily basis, ” said Rick Graham from LexisNexis.
Graham says 63 percent of law enforcement use social media in criminal investigations, and almost three-quarters of them believe it helps solve crimes quickly. Close to 80 percent will use it even more next year. Yet only one-third of these agencies have someone dedicated solely to monitoring social media.
“It is a very effective tool when used properly and I think law enforcement needs to continue to learn how to use it properly,” said Graham.
“We stop short of saying we’re deputizing you all, but it is a deputization and people feel they’re helping crime stop,” he said.
Flynn works to actively engage the State Police Facebook community. Some posts reach close to a million people.
When they help solve a case, he posts the arrest info and thanks them. They demanded tougher crimes to solve, so he put up pics of the man who stole $100,000 from nine ATMs in four towns saying, “You wanted the Big Fish. Have at it!”
“The Big Fish is still under investigation,” he said. “We have some great leads from it.”
Amongst state police Facebook pages, New Jersey ranks third — behind Massachusetts and New York. Jersey’s logged 106,000 “likes” and they’re actively recruiting more.