It what was likely a showing of disdain for authority, two teenagers who shared a photo of themselves online appearing to urinate on a police cruiser, may have inadvertently helped the Mobile Police Department put 12 criminals behind bars.
The photo garnered 3,000 shares when it was shared on the MPD CoBRA Intelligence Facebook page over the summer. Though the two teens were eventually located, they weren’t prosecuted.
However, the attention their photo brought almost doubled the size of the CoBRA Unit’s Facebook presence in only a couple of months. According to Lt. James Rosier, who supervises the Intelligence Unit, that helped his department with a new tool in the fight against crime — social media.
“It’s incredibly important. There are people who’ve been featured on our Facebook page that we would have otherwise not identified,” Rosier said. “You can put it on the [TV] news, and it’ll run for a few seconds, then it’s over. On social media, people can go back and look over and over again.”
In fact, Rosier said since September, 12 suspects have been identified or located through tips that were received through the CoBRA Unit’s page. Most recently, a man wanted for nine robberies in Mobile was apprehended after security camera footage was shared on the MPD’s various social media feeds.
The MPD is not alone in its effort, though. Departments all across the country have embraced social media as a valuable tool to disseminate and gather information. For some officers, social media use is now part of the job.
“The younger (deputies) get it right away, but for some of the older veterans there’s more of a learning curve,” Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran. “It’s a tremendous benefit. It certainly gives us tips and helps us solve crimes, but it also creates more interaction with the community and more transparency. It builds trust and confidence in the agency with people we may have never have a chance to meet or even communicate with otherwise.”
However, in order for to be efficient, social media pages require active followers. Rosier said engagement was a struggle for his unit’s page for almost a year. Today, it has 5,373 likes, which is more than double the roughly 1,400 likes the main MPD page currently has.
Rosier attributed that success directly to the popular post about the teenagers urinating on the MPD cruiser. Since then, the page has looked for other ways to keep its followers engaged, and even entertained, so that when valuable information is sent out, it finds an audience.
“In law enforcement, we deal with a lot of not funny stuff. So we thought, ‘let’s build in some humor.’” Rosier said. “We’ve got a lot of funny folks in (our office), so we started doing that.”
The humor seems to have set the unit’s posts apart from other “wanted” posts typically seen and shared on social media.
In one post from Oct. 7, the CoBRA page gave an on Lmarqus Booker, who was wanted for shooting into an occupied dwelling. However, when Rosier’s united let their facebook audience know he’d been caught, they included the “Got em” tagline from a popular meme video that’s been seen by millions online.
With 67 shares and more than 6,000 views, the post was another success for the department. While some called it “unprofessional,” others hailed it as “hilarious” and asked for more.
Regardless of perception, Rosier said the desired outcome was achieved — more followers found their way to the CoBRA page. With cash rewards of up to $1,000 offered for tips that lead to an arrest, he said sometimes just increasing awareness about the page is enough to start bringing in valuable information.
The MCSO has also shared some “humorous” posts of their own in the past, including one that invited drug dealers to turn in their “competitors” for a cash rewards that ended up reaching more than 26,000 people.
Though it was lighthearted in nature, the department says it helped make arrests and the interest it generated in the page has helped other serious posts about missing children, fugitives and stolen vehicles reach more people.
All of the MCSO’s social media outlets lead to their website, mobileso.com, which features an in-house tip line that Cochran said is very active. A review of the tips shows hundreds of reports that range from bullying a local schools to drugs activity and violent crimes.
Based on that data, at least five arrests or criminal cases were made as a result of the tip line in September alone. Cochran said social media is a part of that success.
Another tactic that seems to help find a larger audience on social media is posting from a fugitive’s perspective. One recent post from the MPD shows a picture of a robbery suspect with a caption that reads, “I am using a stolen cell phone to take selfies in the bathroom. Please turn me in!”
Rosier said that tactic was carefully considered by his team, who employed it again in hopes of getting people to share the post. So far, that particular picture has made it’s way to more than 700 Facebook profiles.
“We don’t mind embarrassing them,” he said. “Bad guys are glamorized and glorified enough on television and video games, but not on my facebook page.”
Oddly enough, sharing information isn’t the only way cops are using social media to prevent crime. They’re also using Facebook to get information off public profiles.
Both MPD and MCSO officials have also discussed using undercover profiles to covertly view profiles and even to engage with criminals directly in some cases.
“Every single one of us have those. I won’t tell you anymore about that, but we’ve got them,” Rosier said. “You’d be surprised at what crooks in the city will tell you, if you design your profile correctly.”