Facebook sleuthing proves fruitful for NZ police

Police have jumped on the social networking bandwagon to gather intelligence from local communities and help catch criminals.

Queenstown and Manurewa police are using Facebook to upload closed circuit television (CCTV) photographs and videos of criminals in action.

The Queenstown police page, set up by intelligence analyst Constable Sean Drader in December 2008, has nearly 1600 fans who have correctly identified one or two alleged offenders each month.

"We were getting loads of CCTV video footage we couldn't do anything with," Mr Drader told police magazine Ten One.

"Using stills you often can't recognise people, but with moving images you get a lot more information."

Mr Drader said "two or three" other police forces worldwide used Facebook for recruitment and community policing messages.

"No one was specifically using Facebook to catch criminals, which I thought would be an ideal use for it," he said.

One video of a shoplifter was online for just 34 minutes before the offender was identified, he said.

As the owner of the Facebook page, Mr Drader is able to access statistics including who is looking at the page and what they are interested in.

"Police need to recognise Facebook as an important investigative tool - we need to embrace it and use it more widely."

The page is updated once or twice a week, but is checked daily for offensive comments or images.

Manurewa intelligence unit Sergeant David Brooke said a Manurewa police page was set up in February last year.

"Everyone is on the internet these days, and people communicate through Facebook and Twitter," he said.

"We are always looking for new ways for the public to comfortably share information. Facebook seemed the perfect way to reach people who don't interact with police in any other way."

Manurewa has nearly 800 fans, with four officers checking the page every weekday.

Mr Brooke said while the page was about solving crime, he would like to develop it further with a focus on community policing.

"We've received a number of positive comments about the page, via both posts on the page itself and phone calls to the office," he said.

Police National Headquarters acting editorial and publishing manager Rob Lee said a national Using Social Media Sites policy was being finalised.

- NZPA

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