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Published May 23 2012

Little for Fargo criminals to ‘like’ on Facebook

FARGO – Small-time criminals, beware: You might soon be finding your picture on the Fargo Police Department’s Facebook page.

After finding success in using news outlets to distribute images or video of suspects from major crimes to the public, Fargo police have now started using social media for a similar purpose, typically for smaller property crimes.

While the department has had a Facebook page for nearly two years, Lt. Joel Vettel said that only in the past few months has it started posting things like surveillance photos in hopes of getting help from the public.

Two recent photos, posted on May 17 and 18, depict suspects in purse-snatching cases, and ask the public to call the police if they have any information.

So far, Vettel said Facebook postings have led to at least two successful tips in identifying suspects.

Even so, people who’ve “liked” the page shouldn’t expect to see postings like that all the time.

Rather, it will mostly be reserved for instances when investigators have run out of options.

“We oftentimes will use (Facebook) to generate new leads to move the case along if we’ve hit a dead end,” Vettel said.

Fargo police are also hesitant to use the page too much until better understanding how media like Facebook work best in interacting with the public.

“We’re going to do what we need to do, making sure that we’re utilizing the tool correctly and safely,” Vettel said. “We don’t want to overuse it, or do more with it than it is.”

In West Fargo, the police department has also been using Facebook and Twitter for public awareness purposes, but not to the extent of posting surveillance photos like those on Fargo’s page.

But Assistant Chief Mike Reitan said police there are continuing to look at new ways to use social media.

“We recognize that it is an almost instant messaging method that allows us to make contact with the public through what we wouldn’t consider conventional means,” he said.

“It’s an ever-changing technology for us,” he added.

The Moorhead Police Department doesn’t have a Facebook page at all, which Lt. Tory Jacobson said is a matter of the department not having enough resources to keep it updated.

“To have somebody working on social sites like that certainly is something that we recognize could be important, but currently we don’t have the ability to do so,” he said.

Even without a Facebook page, though, Jacobson said the department still stays current with its website and other public awareness tools, such as text-a-cop.

“We try to make it so that we’re accessible through technologies that are available and practiced in the community,” he said.

But no matter how a department uses social media to educate or ask for help from the public, Vettel thinks things like Facebook can only do so much. It can’t replace “good old-fashioned police work.”

“There’s never going to be a substitute for that,” he added.


To visit or “like” the Fargo police Facebook page, go to http://www.facebook.com/ and search “Fargo Police”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535

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