‘Like’ police to fight crime

The Seymour Police Department is reaching out to the public through social media to help fight crime and keep the community better informed.

Officer Devin Cornwell recently reactivated the department’s Facebook page and has taken on responsibility for updating the feed regularly with information, sometimes several times a day.

The unofficial job as public information officer has resulted in several arrests using tips from the public, he said.

In one recent case, Cornwell posted information warning of a scam using United Way’s name to raise money. After several helpful tips came in through Facebook, police were able to locate the man running the bogus fundraiser, stop him and return the money the next day.

Cornwell also started Wanted Wednesdays, a feature where he posts photos and information on active warrants in an attempt to locate wanted individuals. That also has led to an arrest of a woman wanted for possession of stolen property.

“I knew it was possible, but I didn’t know how much it would help,” Cornwell said of the response and interaction the department is getting through Facebook. “It’s really been helping a lot. We’re getting a lot of information on cases.”

He prefers people not to leave public comments on the page with tips or information about cases but instead should send them in a private message.

The page allows the department to highlight its community service, including participation in a career day at Seymour Middle School, partnering with Walmart to help a local girl battling an illness and involvement in the annual Cops and Kids Christmas program.

Cornwell also uses it to make public service announcements, such as keeping pets warm during the winter and holiday shopping safety tips.

Although it can take up a lot of time, Cornwell said, Facebook can be an important tool in staying connected.

“We really need to have a social media presence because the public is where our information comes from,” he said. “It’s an easy way for them to get a hold of us and to put information out.”

A lot of people won’t pick up a phone and make a call, but they have no problem sending a text or a Facebook message, Cornwell said.

Besides finding wanted people, Facebook has helped police identify people and fight drugs.

Facebook is used by all ages and races and both men and women, so it’s reaching a wide audience, too, he said.

Of course, there are some situations where Facebook won’t be used, especially in highly sensitive cases, such as sexual assaults or those that involve children.

“We won’t be getting much into that because we don’t want to put victims in the spotlight,” he said.

Police departments often don’t take the time to let the public know what is being accomplished. Cornwell said he hopes to change that by using Facebook because police officers are doing good things every day.

“This is a way for us to let people know what we do and that we are out there doing the best for them,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know.”

Although helpful, Facebook also can cause some problems, but Cornwell said the benefits outweigh the potential negatives.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” he said. “It can be a great thing if used correctly, but mistakes will be made. It’s something we are figuring out as we go, and we will get better.”

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.