For some time now, law enforcement agencies have been utilizing social media to help identify crooks, share information and warn residents of potential crimes in their area.
But there also are citizen-run social media pages that give residents an avenue to seek information about crimes that have been committed or dangers in the community.
One example is Franklin County Citizen Watch, which gives people a place to post images of stolen vehicles, as well as perpetrators caught on camera committing a crime.
That group was started in 2017 by Scott D. Medlock of Sullivan.
In addition to Franklin County Citizen Watch, which encompasses the entire county, there are smaller pages linked to Neighborhood Watch groups for more specific areas.
There also are groups like Stone Crest Subdivision-Washmo that provide more information than just crime-related incidents to its members.
Franklin County Sheriff Steve Pelton encourages Neighborhood Watch groups to set up social media pages.
Area Neighborhood Watch groups serve as eyes and ears for law enforcement officers, he said, and are especially valuable in rural parts of the county that are sparsely populated.
Medlock said he began the page in the spring of last year after hearing scanner traffic as he commuted to and from his work in Sullivan.
Medlock told The Missourian that he works third shift and listens to the scanner to take a different route home if there is an accident. While commuting he would hear dispatchers give descriptions of stolen vehicles.
Then, a friend had a vehicle stolen from his car sales business in St. Clair, near Medlock’s parents’ home.
“If I had known about it sooner I could have called him,” he said. “Also, it was close by to my folks’ place and that bothered me.”
Later that week a truck was stolen in the St. Clair area. Medlock said if he had been aware of that theft sooner he would have stopped in a parking lot and kept an eye out for the truck so he could contact authorities if he saw it.
“That night at work I started the Facebook page,” he said, adding he contacted Pelton who encouraged him to continue growing the page.
“People can post on Facebook and if there is something nearby, members can stop what they are doing and walk out the front door and look,” he said. “It gives people a heads-up.”
Medlock said he tries to keep the page on point, and does not allow political posting, rants, classified ads or attacks of members.
When he first started Franklin County Citizen Watch there were 50 to 100 members. Today there are nearly 2,400.
“It is growing faster than I can keep up with,” Medlock said. “That is a good thing.”
He since has added administrators to the page, but Medlcok is seeking more people to help. His goal is to have two admins in each community in Franklin County.
In addition to the Facebook page, Medlock has held one group meeting focused on changes to conceal and carry laws. He plans more meetings in the future covering other topics.
Sheriff’s Department Page
Beginning last year, the The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office took a more aggressive approach to social media use.
Through its Facebook page, the sheriff’s office has warned residents of crime in their area.
Pelton explained that letting the public know about incidents near their home, as a preventive measure, they can better look out for potential crimes being committed.
Residents have aided in investigations and locating suspects through social media, he said.
In December last year, the department turned to Facebook to help identify a man suspected in the theft of a truck from St. Clair.
In that instance, a white Ford service truck was stolen from a home in the St. Clair area. An investigation led detectives to footage from a surveillance camera at a local store.
Once the still images from the camera were shared, detectives began receiving tips and narrowed their search for the suspect.
Pelton said his department may not have been able to quickly identify the suspect if not for the help of residents using social media.
When Ricky Johnson escaped from the Franklin County Jail in April, the sheriff’s office turned to its Facebook page to warn residents of the escape, but also sought any information leading to his arrest.
Residents provided hundreds of tips, and because the incident spread quickly throughout the community, Johnson was nabbed about eight hours later.