A Case Study: Social Media Key To Crime Stoppers Programs’ Success & Community Safety
In today’s reality, social media tools and platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Foursquare, Webdoc, QR Codes and Google Plus are important two way communication tools that improves the reach of the Crime Stoppers mission of helping to stop, solve and prevent crimes together. It is important to have access to all the social media platforms that your program is using to reach your communities on your websites in the form of the service provider icons like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn and Google Plus hyperlinked to your accounts.
Many Crime Stoppers programs in Canada and throughout the world have adapted a social media presence that has resulted in some notable success stories. There are still many programs struggling to establish their social media, and a number who simply don’t know how to do it. At the Crime Stoppers International Training Conference in Jamaica in 2011, an online guide for social media set up was provided.
In dialogue with the President of the Canadian Crime Stoppers Association, Ralph Page, I was asked to describe a ‘case study’ using social media. I decided to describe one case that social media was used for a case of an abducted child and a wanted fugitive to give those programs some basic suggestions on how to set up social media for their programs.
Before I chronicle the story here, it should be pointed out that the undisputed leader when it comes to using social media for abduction cases, for his own case, and to help others facing similar, and complicated situations is Mr. Stephen Watkins. Stephen has leveraged every social media tool there is to try to locate his two boys and seek justice. I have often followed his lead on the effective use of social media, and Stephen is to be commended for always thinking of making the tools and resources that he has found through his personal case available for others to use effectively to bring peace of mind to so many people who are searching for answers due to an unsolved crime. The same social media approaches can and should be used in crime prevention, to stop violence before it starts, and Crime Stoppers is one of the keys to success worldwide, in my humble opinion.
The case I will talk about is that of a missing little girl named Pearl Gavaghan Da Massa who was alleged to have been abducted by her biological mother from England, and last seen in the Parkdale area of Toronto when I was asked to get involved using social media by a fellow officer, Constable Wendy Drummond, a media relations officer for the Toronto Police Service. I subsequently worked very closely with Henry Da Massa, Pearl’s biological father, the officers in the the Toronto Police Service Fugitive Squad led by Detective Rick Mooney, as well as the Missing Children’s Society of Canada, who had offered a reward in the case.
When we started out, Henry had a Facebook profile called ‘Missing Pearl’ that had about 400 ‘friends’ on it, all of whom were following Henry’s journey to find his daughter. We assisted Henry to set up a Facebook Page for the case, and encouraged all Facebook traffic to be directed to the page. The reason for setting up a page, is that multiple people can then post officially as “Missing Pearl”. This could include investigators, family members or Crime Stoppers affiliated people. The other good thing about a Facebook page is that a Crime Stoppers Leave A Tip tab can be installed to any page, which allows a reader to click on the Leave A Tip Facebook app and be directed right into the Tipsoft / Crime Reports anonymous tip submit system that many Crime Stoppers use to process tips.
Henry started up a Twitter account dedicated to his search and started a hash tag on Twitter #FindPearl. For clarification to people new to Twitter, a hash tag is a key word and clickable link that anyone can start that you post in a ‘tweet’ that allows for anyone ‘tweeting’ about the case to use, thus allowing anyone who is following the situation the ability to type into the search bar on twitter the hash tag and see what is being said and by who. One thing to keep in mind as a Crime Stoppers program using social media, is that you should always be in contact with the investigating officer of the the case to ensure that the social media posts are complimentary to what the investigators are doing on their investigation. Social media is very public, and what is being stated on social media sites quite often is being followed by the the very people that are alleged to be suspects in cases like this. We maintained dialogue behind the scenes with the investigators to ensure that we were not stepping on anyone’s toes.
Henry also started a Youtube account, which he used to post some videos of he and his missing daughter.
It was the first time we tried to live stream an appeal using Crime Stoppers International. Immediately after broadcasting the appeal of Henry from our office in Toronto, his Facebook friends in England started sending him messages that they had seen his appeal video live!
Fast forward a month or so, and Crime Stoppers International President Michael Gordon-Gibson was coming in to Toronto from the United Kingdom to speak at the Toronto International Fugitive Investigators
Conference. Michael had asked me to co-present with him on the effective use of social media.
Here is where the true value of Crime Stoppers came into play. The partnership of the community, the police and the media, and now social media was leveraged at this Fugitive Conference.
A community member from the Parkdale area named Paisley Rae offered her assistance to make some Youtube videos appealing for information on the whereabouts of Pearl. She worked tirelessly filming and editing a video chronicling the last known places that Pearl had been seen in Toronto.
Rae’s video was posted to her Youtube account to assist the cause. Michael Gordon-Gibson filmed a video appeal that was posted to the Crime Stoppers International Youtube account that explored the value of using QR Codes (Quick Response Codes).
These codes are great for including on public handouts about the case. The idea is that a member of the public can scan the QR Code using their smart phone and get instant information about the case, who to call if they know something or how to submit anonymous information to Crime Stoppers.
Kevin Masterman, Media Coordinator for Toronto Police attended the Fugitive Conference presentation that was for law enforcement only, and wrote a story that included the appeal videos for finding Pearl, which was further shared into social media circles.
Mac’s Convenience Stores contributed to the appeal by adding a video appeal onto their digital display terminals in stores across Canada thanks to Sean Sportun, of the Toronto Crime Stoppers Board.
At one point during the summer of 2011, an online canvass using Facebook Places check ins and Fourquare check ins was done at Yonge Dundas Square in downtown Toronto that resulted in a lot of people attending a concert that featured Canadian rapper Classified, Hollerado and the Crash Test Dummies. A few photos were taken of this appeal with some of the band members to try to boost the public appeal for tips to solve the case. Some photos of this are here:
If you are saying to yourself at this point “How do you keep track of what everyone is doing?” This is where the Webdoc application we talked about earlier comes into play.
Everything we were doing in social media, I was compiling into one Webdoc about the case, that was easily shared at any time with anyone willing to assist with the appeal in social media, whether it be a fellow officer, a community member, citizen journalist, or a reporter from the traditional media.
This Webdoc became the living breathing filing system of the social and traditional media.
The poster for the Missing Pearl case was featured in the slide show at the popular State of NOW conference in New York City.
From this document we made a QR code, which eventually was published in a book of 350 unsolved missing person cases written by retired Toronto Star reporter, and Halton Crime Stoppers program board member Cal Millar called Missing Find Me. The book was recently published and is available on Amazon.com.
By the time I got a copy of the book, 5 cases had already been solved. Ironically, Cal had included a QR code in the book for the Webdoc on the Missing Pearl case. Cal said to me he was going to have to do an update to the book because the cases were getting solved. Not even Cal quite understood the proper use of QR Codes, but it became quickly apparent to him that the use of QR Codes was essential for his work with Crime Stoppers chronicling unsolved murder cases and missing person cases.
I quickly got my smart phone out and scanned the QR Code for the Missing Pearl case. It came up to good news.. that on September 26, 2011 Pearl had been safely located in Montreal after a tip from a member of the public to a patrolling police officer about suspicious activity by an adult female and a child.
The exact wording was as follows, with a link to a traditional media story about how Pearl was located. “Good news: Pearl was located safely in Montreal September 26, 2011. Thank you to everyone who assisted with this case – the public, media and the police.”
As it turned out Pearl was located with her biological mother. Her mother was arrested, and Pearl is now back in England with her father. By scanning the QR Code in the book, the reader was immediately given reliable and up to date progress of the case. Cal has now told me that he will be using this format for his future research into unsolved murder cases and missing person cases… and it was right after this experience with Cal, and a talk with Ralph that Ralph asked me to write this out for publication in the Crime Stoppers newsletter.
I have been told by some long time Crime Stoppers board members that this is ‘very complicated’.
It really isn’t complicated at all. It is a very efficient way to chronicle ongoing cases for Crime Stoppers programs across Canada and worldwide.
It all starts with a proper set up in social media of your program. The Webdoc on how to set up your Crime Stoppers program in a similar way to how Henry set it up to find his missing daughter is posted on the Canadian Crime Stoppers Association and Crime Stoppers International official Facebook pages at the top left corner.
Social media platforms and settings are constantly changing, and updates will be posted often to the webdoc by myself and others who are trusted contributors to Crime Stoppers, and familiar with social media. This is the beauty of using Webdoc. If someone in a program in Vancouver for instance comes up with a good way of doing things, they can post what worked for them on the Webdoc for other programs to reference, and they can tweet and facebook everyone following their social media with their updates to notify others. There are no trade secrets being shared, just very accessible data for all who care to contribute, with reliable people in Crime Stoppers moderating the information to keep our most important assets in tact… our Crime Stoppers brand, and our trust that we have with the public.
The effective use of social media for Crime Stoppers is something that all Crime Stoppers coordinators should be making a priority. It can be a little bit scary at first if you are new to social media, but with modern communication tools like Skype widely available, we are always here to assist, no matter what the question is.
To contact Scott Mills via Skype add graffitibmxcop to your contacts.
E-Mail Scott at SocialMedia@CSIWorld.org