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Officers put technology to use
Social media, texting help fight crime
Sunday, October 20, 2013
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Local law enforcement agencies are using technology to help fight crime.
In Henry County, Sheriff Lane Perry is promoting a new texting and email system, while the Martinsville Police Department and the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office both have created social media pages on Facebook, according to Interim Martinsville Police Chief Eddie Cassady and Patrick investigator Danny Martin, respectively.
The system in Henry County is a place for students in the county’s middle and high schools to send anonymous emails or text messages, Perry said. “Emailing and texting are big things to the youth of today, and now, if a students sees something that really bothers them,” he said authorities can help before a situation “gets out of hand.”
“Part of this effort also is to try to keep drug use and abuse from increasing,” Perry said. “The young children who get lost today on drugs will be the criminals of tomorrow, and we know there are a lot of good kids in the school system who don’t like it when they see their friends lost to drugs. They don’t like it when they walk into a bathroom and see drugs being done, or when they see someone in the parking lot selling drugs,” he said.
But, “anything that concerns students can be reported,” he said. For example, “say someone’s smart phone is stolen” and a student knows who took it, Perry said. That information could be passed to authorities via the new system.
A secondary reason for starting the project is a challenge from Perry that “everyone should start taking ownership of their environment. We are not asking anyone to endanger themselves, but just to take ownership of their environment to help clean it up.”
The system also is intended to send a strong message to those students engaging in poor behaviors.
“We want them to know that they don’t have free reign to engage in bad behaviors anymore. If they go into the bathroom, if they are selling drugs in the parking lot or coming to school late because they are selling them off school property, I want them thinking that someone will know, that someone will report the incident to law enforcement” and that there will be consequences, Perry said.
When texting or emailing, students are asked to include as many details as possible — for instance, the name of the person, the alleged crime, the name of the school, when the incident occurred and where — and to not use abbreviations, Perry said.
If a student tells his or her parents or guardians about a particular incident, the parents or guardians can text or email the information to authorities if that helps students feel more secure, he said.
The new system is not set up to accept emergency texts or emails, Perry said. To report an immediate school safety issue, such as “if someone brings a weapon to school,” students need to call 911.
The address firstname.lastname@example.org is designed for the anonymous emails and texts.
Adult residents are asked to call 656-4200 instead of using the text/email system, Perry said.
“This system was created to give the kids an anonymous means of reporting drug information and violence in their environments,” he added.
Social media pages in Martinsville and Patrick not only are designed to get information, but provide it as well, authorities said.
Cassady said his department’s Facebook page began on March 10, 2011, as a way of maintaining a connection with residents because “social media is growing so much among law enforcement agencies and residents. It’s a good way to get information out as quickly as possible.”
When a new post is added to the Facebook page, Cassady said, many smart phones send notification alerts to those people who have “liked” the page. That feature enables the department to put out information in real time in the event of an impending threat to the community, he said.
Also posted on the page are news releases, general information that may detail various ways to keep from being a victim of crime, scams to look out for and other topics, as well as links to stories from local media outlets, updates about vehicle crashes, photos from events such as National Night Out, monthly reports about the number of calls the office responds to, prevention tips, and weather emergency and other information, Cassady said.
The city’s list of most wanted suspects — “mainly those we have outstanding warrants on” — is posted on a second page, at www.martinsvillepolice.org, Cassady said.
Martin said information gleaned from the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office’s social media site helps law enforcement agencies maintain a connection with the community that has paid off with arrests and information.
In addition to wanted persons and news releases, Martin said, information about various other topics is posted regularly on the office’s Facebook page.
“We knew that several other sheriff’s offices in North Carolina and, closer to home, in Rocky Mount, all had a Facebook page,” Martin said. “I dealt with those agencies, and everyone I talked to said they had a lot of success.” Martin said Sheriff Dan Smith also “recognized the opportunities it would provide.”
However, residents are advised to call 911 in the event of an emergency, authorities said.