- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - Sioux City police Officer Chad Sheehan spends quite a bit of time on Facebook when he’s at work. But his boss doesn’t seem to mind.

Sheehan is one of Siouxland’s crime fighters who uses social media to get the word out about wanted suspects as well as to communicate with tipsters using Facebook, Twitter and “text-a-tip.”

“I think it’s very important. It’s a great way for us to reach out to the community and for the community to reach out to us,” Sheehan told the Sioux City Journal (http://bit.ly/1bOlyc1).

Earlier this year, the U.S. Marshals Service teamed up with the Woodbury County Sheriff’s Office, sending information on fugitives to Maj. Greg Stallman, who then posts it on the department’s Facebook page.

“All we’re doing is getting the wanted person they’re looking for out,” Stallman said. “We’re happy to assist them; that’s what law enforcement is. We work together.”

It was this cooperation - along with the popularity of social media - that resulted in the arrest of Anthony Joseph Barton on Jan. 9.

Barton, 23, is accused of confronting his ex-girlfriend on Dec. 19 in the Lakeport Commons parking lot. He shot her several times with a stun gun, then hit her with her SUV and drove off, according to court documents.

A warrant was issued for his arrest on Jan. 6. Thanks to the viral nature of social media - as well as mainstream media - he was arrested three days later in Sergeant Bluff.

U.S. Deputy Marshal Mike Fuller said citizen tips were pivotal in Barton’s capture.

“Anyone we’re looking for, somebody knows them,” Fuller said. “By using social media and news media, and getting the word out, it’s a lot easier to canvass the neighborhood without actually knocking on doors.”

Well-known crime-fighting organizations Crime Stoppers and Neighborhood Watch were established in the 1970s as a way for regular people to keep their communities safe by calling in tips.

For Sheehan, one case sticks out among all others.

A call on the department’s Crime Stoppers phone line resulted in the capture and imprisonment of a man who intended to commit sexual assault.

“It was about a year ago. A suspect tried entering three homes in a two- to three-hour time span, with the intent to commit sexual assault,” he said. “An anonymous tip through Crime Stoppers actually led to the suspect being found in Omaha on charges he had that were similar to the crimes he committed here.”

Sheehan estimates the tipline receives anywhere from 10 to 100 calls a month.

The majority of information received by the Sioux County Sheriff’s Office’s in Orange City comes through electronic media, said Chief Deputy Nate Huizenga.

“I think the generation that’s coming up now is just used to social media and used to logging in and putting in information that way,” he said.

While these tools allow police to both collect and disseminate information, what happens when citizens take the initiative and involve themselves?

Randy Schoener co-founded the Sioux City Community Watch page on Facebook in April and has more than 4,500 followers.

“It really got a lot bigger than I ever expected it to,” Schoener said. “We had been seeing a lot of things happening on our street and we just started communicating about the things that were happening on our block.”

Schoener said he sees the group as a sounding board for community issues. He’s had to moderate much of the page’s activity to keep conversations on a relevant and civilized track.

Police agencies don’t regard online citizen groups as competition with official channels. They can be a good source of information.

However, it’s important to consider the source and avoid taking every post at face value, Sheehan said.

“There are always statements on any of these social media sites that don’t necessarily accurately portray what’s going on,” he said.

Still, the majority of information gathered by police comes through official channels, Huizenga said. The Sioux County Sheriff’s Office maintains Facebook and Twitter accounts and citizens are encouraged to submit information and complaints.

“We get a lot of driving complaints, but we also get some drug complaints,” he said.

The trick, Huizenga said, is determining the validity of the information.

For Schoener, finding a balance poses a challenge for the future.

“I’m still interested in people seeing thieves going down the street at night, but I don’t want to be a gossip column either,” he said.


Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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