• How police are using social media sites to solve crimes

    Updated:

    PITTSBURGH - More local police departments are using social media as an investigative tool.

    Southwest Regional Police Chief John Hartman points to a case where surveillance cameras at a Union Township Dairy Queen captured a man stealing a donation jar for the Children's Miracle Network.

    The video was posted on the department's Facebook page, and within hours, tipsters identified and police charged Patrick Hufnagel on suspicion of the crime.

    "It exceeded any estimation I might have put on what it could do for us and it continues (to do so)," said Hartman, "We literally employ social media in every case we do, in one way or another."

    Hartman isn't alone.

    According to a survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police of 600 agencies, more than 92 percent of departments now use social media, 74 percent believe it helps them solve crimes, and 64 percent say it improved community relations.

    "What made policing work in the beginning, at its inception was the police officer goes out on the beat, walking the beat," said Hartman, "He got to know the shop owners, he got to know the residents. This is nothing more than an electronic beat. "

    Facebook also helped his officers track down a man accused of running a scheme on Craigslist stealing vehicle while claiming to be a state constable.

    Chief Hartman personally oversees the department's Facebook and Twitter feeds as well as raidsonline.com, a website where crime stats are logged and detailed right down to the street.

    "We live in a right-to-know state and it is imperative, critical that people know what's happening in their communities," said Hartman.

    Next Up: