ASSIGNMENT 13: Digital Detectives

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) For police it's as vital a tool as a squad car, and something you probably use every day.

More western Wisconsin officers are arming themselves with social media.

Facebook, Twitter, the same websites you use to keep up with grandma, cops use to put bad guys behind bars.

For example, when The Corner Store in Eau Claire called police about a theft , the sheriff's office used Twitter to help catch the culprits.

"One of the investigators knew that we used this as a tool, and came to us and asked if we could put a photograph of the individuals on our Twitter account," says Eau Claire Police Officer Kyle Roder.

It wasn't long before some Eau Claire Police Department Twitter followers recognized the suspects, and turned them in.

"Within about 15 minutes of posting it on our page that investigator had that first phone call identifying the two individuals," explains Roder.

The Sparta Police Department has jumped into the social media pool with both feet. They Tweet, they Facebook, and they're proud of "Wanted Wednesday."

That's when they Facebook post mugshots of people they're looking for and the tips roll in.

"We get a lot of Facebook shares when it goes out, it's not uncommon for a Wanted Wednesday to get 3,000 views in just a matter of hours," says Sparta Police Chief Michael Kass.

Out of the 15 people recently featured, they've caught 12.

"Last week's person turned themselves in after being on the site for three days," says Kass.

Chippewa Falls is another department that swears by social media.

Earlier this month, Nickolas Raether was arrested for sexually assaulting a 16 year old girl he met on Facebook.

Officers had a feeling this alleged attack wasn't the only one, and decided to fight fire with fire using Facebook to see if any more potential victims were out there.

"On Facebook we just put the message out saying hey if anyone has met this person or had any contact with this person give us a call," says Chippewa Falls Police Officer Joe Nelson.

The idea worked.

"I think it was up to nine or ten people contacted us based on the Facebook post," explains Nelson.

Roder believes social media works so well for investigations because of its speed and reach with the click of a button.

"Currently we are at about 2300 followers on Twitter, so every time we have info we need to get out, it reaches 2300 who then pass that along as re-tweets onto their followers," he explains.

Roder says it's also a way for people to take safety into their own hands, giving them a real relationship with the people protecting them.

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