GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Facebook is no longer just a place to browse photos and statuses of friends and acquaintances. Sites like Facebook and twitter have emerged into tools to help law enforcement get ahead in their cases.
Getting online is not just about getting in touch with friends. For law enforcement, it's about getting on top of crime, and here in Mesa County, the sheriff's department is hitting the web to protect the community both in and outside of cyberspace.
"Between Twitter, Facebook, any of your social media sites, absolutely there are people who will put photographs, who will put written stories about what they've done, even criminal things,” says Sergeant Matt Lewis, public information officer for the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department.
Sgt. Lewis says investigators use social media everyday, not just to get information to and from the public, but to get on top of cases.
"To further their cases, try to locate people, try to find associates of people, things like that,” he says.
Social media especially came in handy for the sheriff's department this past December, in the case of Theodore "TJ" Morelli.
"We had a particular case with a sex offender who was wanted for several failure to register warrants. And no matter what we did, we couldn't seem to find him and get him in to custody,” says Sgt. Lewis.
That's when they turned to Facebook.
"We received some information that he might be out of state in a particular location. So we used Facebook in this case to contact people who were friends with us on our Facebook page in that area, as well as other law enforcement entities in that area, through their Facebook pages,” he says. "We were able to track this person down in an out of state area, and get him into custody, using Facebook really."
While their methods are of course confidential, Sergeant Lewis says Mesa County is better protected and better served by their officers taking to the web.
"The particular things we do with it in our investigations, we don't want to put that information out there necessarily to train better criminals, but it's a very important tool. It gives us a lot of insight a lot of information that we wouldn't be able to get if that weren't a tool at our disposal,” he says.
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, about 88 percent of law enforcement agencies have used social media sites for investigative work. Here in Mesa County, that seems to hold true as well.
The Grand Junction Police Department also tells KKCO 11 news they utilize Facebook when it comes to solving crime. They say if they get a lead that a person's page contains information to help with a case, they will then look at that Facebook page.
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