NORTH PORT, Fla. (WFLA) – The North Port Police Department is receiving national recognition for using a very valuable tool to fight crime – social media.
Inside the halls of the department, Josh Taylor sits behind a desk, updating the agency’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Around here, he’s just as important as any detective.
In the past few months at least a dozen cases have been solved thanks to social media.
Some posts have been humorous, such as one from January. It depicted a wanted criminal with a “Star Wars” shirt so the department asked the public to “use the force,” saying the suspect was “not in a galaxy far, far away.” Sure enough, the man was soon arrested.
“If we just put out, ‘Hey, we’re looking for this person, please help us,’ doesn’t really resonate with folks. So we’ll try to look for something that’s gonna get their attention,” Taylor explained.
Just this week, Taylor put up a post about an identity thief who was caught on surveillance camera wearing a “Captain America” shirt. “We have a little fun with it, so we call him Captain Identity Thief,” Taylor said.
And these posts have saved lives.
In February, the department was desperately looking for a missing elderly woman with dementia – all to no avail. “We had the helicopters up. We’re looking for them, can’t find this woman,” Taylor recalled.
So he posted to Facebook. Within five minutes, a viewer took out his dog and found the woman in the woods.
Police officers see social media as a valuable tool. “Some folks may be scared or apprehensive in talking to a law enforcement officer, and this will open up that communication conduit,” Assistant Police Chief Mike Pelfrey said.
It’s important to note this success happened in a short amount of time. Just one year ago, the department’s Twitter page had 30 followers and the Facebook page was non-existent. Now, the police department is followed by thousands of people.
The Department is even a finalist for the Golden Post Award. This award is given to departments who have done outstanding work solving crimes using social media. While the department is proud of this recognition, officials are even prouder their solving crimes.