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Police use YouTube, Twitter to solve crimes, get word out

10:54 AM, Jun 30, 2012   |    comments
Minneapolis Police Department Youtube channel
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It didn't take long for Philadelphia police to catch a suspect after a woman boarded a bus and punched an unsuspecting passenger 10 times in the face, head, neck and shoulders.

But it wasn't just traditional police work that nabbed the suspect - it was YouTube.

Only two days after detectives posted video surveillance from the Route 23 SEPTA bus on YouTube, the footage had 117,950 hits, and a tip came in that led to the arrest of a suspect.

More than 40 police departments across the country are turning to YouTube, the popular video repository of social media, to communicate with the public and catch criminals. Among the cities: Philadelphia, Kansas City, Mo., Detroit, Houston, Baltimore, Tucson, Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

Philadelphia police say that YouTube videos helped them solve 85 cases since Feb. 2011 - part of the department's "Video Villains" program that posts unsolved crime surveillance videos hoping for tips.

"We are at the forefront; we are pushing the envelope," says Philadelphia police Lt. Ray Evers. "We have had great success in having the public help us solve crime."

The Kansas City Police Department has posted at least 46 surveillance videos on their YouTube channel hoping for tips.

"It's been very successful, especially for our robbery unit," spokeswoman Sarah Boyd says. "Detectives are much more likely to put the video up because they know it's so easy."

Posting surveillance videos to YouTube gives the media instant access so they can spread the footage quickly, Boyd says.

The Tuscon Police Department started using YouTube in the case of missing 6-year-old Isabel Celis. The department posted a surveillance video and the audio of two 911 phone calls reporting the child missing in late April.

"We can put out info pertinent to that case as soon as possible. Before we would have to burn to a CD or DVD and hand that out," says Sgt. Maria Hawke from Tucson Police Department. "Now we can distribute it equally to everyone at the same time."

YouTube and other social-media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook let police cut down on time spent answering phone calls, says Sacramento Police Department Sgt. Andrew Pettit.

"It quiets the storms, so to speak," Pettit says. "If we tweet something, we can put the info out instantaneously, and everyone gets it. It's a viral communication network."

Police across the country use YouTube videos for not only crime-solving, but also to combat criticism of their department.

In Minneapolis, police posted footage to discredit an Occupy protestor's video that depicted police brutality.

The Milwaukee Police Department posted a video of Chief Edward Flynn criticizing a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article that published the department's misreporting of hundreds of assault cases.

"It's our way of getting our own message out," says Houston Police Department spokesman John Cannon. "Those are avenues that give us a national and international audience that we otherwise would not have. Any type of technology that can help more eyes and ears access something is beneficial to HPD or any other law enforcement."

USA Today

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