Social media pays digital dividends for Westfield detectives

The prevalence of Facebook has worked to the department’s advantage

WESTFIELD, Mass. (WESTFIELD NEWS) – We live in a day and age when social media platforms have changed the world as we know it, in all facets of life, from the way we socialize to the way the law is enforced.

Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have all begun to utilize new and burgeoning social media platforms to make announcements and solve cases. In Westfield, the Detective Bureau of the city’s Police Department launched a Facebook page in the fall of 2013, a development that has paid big dividends.

“It gets a lot of information for us,” said Det. Brian Freeman. He said it has garnered over 2,000 “likes” and he posts frequently to those followers. “Some of the first uses we used it for were store surveillance or when we had photos of people we’re looking to identify,” Freeman said.

He said that posting images of suspects often spurs followers to share the pictures on their own Facebook pages, which in turn generates feedback from people living in the community who may or may not also follow the Detective Bureau on social media.

“We can monitor how many times it gets shared, so after we post it, we can see how many people are sharing it and how many people have viewed it,” he said. “Sometimes it just explodes and reaches thousands of people.”

While posting to the page is generally one of the last things detectives will do when investigating a reported crime, the prevalence of Facebook has worked to the department’s advantage and has helped its detectives immensely, according to Freeman.

“It is usually just something we do after we’ve exhausted other avenues,” he added. “But a lot of cases would go unsolved if we couldn’t get people’s identities. Sometimes we’ll get 10 people calling in to report an identity.”

While reports have been known to be incorrect on occasion, Freeman said that the bureau welcomes all the information it recieves. “We also use it to dispel rumors,” he said, citing an incident which occurred several years ago in which a man had allegedly been beaten on a city sidewalk, when in reality he had merely slipped and fallen.

“People were calling in everyday asking ‘Is it true that so-and-so got beat up?’ So, one of our captain used it to dispel that rumor,” said Freeman.

The anonymous nature of writing to the bureau through a private Facebook message has helped in instances where a witness to a crime may have been hesitant to come forward in the past.

“They don’t have to face us this way. They can just write a message and we’ll write one back usually,” he said. “Everyone has their phone in their hand all day scrolling and when something comes up that piques their interest, they pick up on it.”

While Westfield is a city of over 40,000 residents on paper, at times it can feel like a small town and Facebook’s ubiquitious nature knits many of these residents together, creating a network of people who will see and subsequently share the content.

“For us to get word out to the whole city without (Facebook) is hard to do, so this helps spread it,” said Freeman, adding that the bureau has contemplated adding other platforms such has Twitter, which he believes will become a reality soon.

“We know that the college kids in town are using social media platforms that are completely anonymous but there is no real credibility to that,” he said.

For now, the Facebook page has proven to be more than adequate tool used in solving crimes, crime prevention and building bridges to the community at large.

“We’ve had a lot of success with it. We’ve identified a lot of people using this that probably wouldn’t have been identified otherwise,” said Freeman.

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Media Credit: The Westfield News

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