As originally published on the Facebook Blog on August 4th, 2009.

Constable Scott Mills has served as a police officer with the Toronto Police Service in Canada since 2002. His current role is Community Youth Officer for the Toronto Crime Stoppers program, where he works to build healthy relationships between young people, community members and the police department. We’ve asked Scott to share his experiences using Facebook to fight crime by connecting with the community.

There’s no doubt that Facebook has revolutionized the act of sharing and communicating with friends. Often overlooked, however, is the impact these tools can have on public safety. Because community engagement is critical to effective law enforcement, police officers must be where the people are, and these days, the people are on Facebook.

For the last two years, I have used my Facebook account, as well as Facebook groups, events and Pages, to inform Toronto residents about crimes in their area and encourage them to provide anonymous tips. Messages can be broadcast quickly and easily to wide audiences with immediate feedback. Outreach through Facebook has helped Toronto Crime Stoppers sniff out threats against local schools, bring much needed help to people at risk of committing suicide, warn the public about criminals on the loose and even locate missing persons.
In addition to enabling us to gather tips more efficiently and effectively, Facebook also has helped us build a stronger, more meaningful connection with the community we serve. My department runs programs aimed at keeping kids off the street and away from trouble. These programs include presentations at local schools, Bicycle Moto-Cross (BMX) camps, legal graffiti competitions and dance contests. Through photos, videos, and links, Facebook has allowed us to promote these programs to those who need them most and hopefully leading to fewer people getting involved with crime because of boredom or lack of options.

I’m proud of the work we’ve done and passionate about the potential for tools like Facebook to aid law enforcement. Policymakers and police officers from around the world still have a lot to learn about how to use social media to build connections to enlist the public in preventing and solving crimes, but police departments in cities around the world are starting to take notice. Last fall, at a conference hosted by the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) in Johannesburg, South Africa, the group’s Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said:

People routinely use the Internet to find former classmates or individuals with similar interests…. there is no reason why law enforcement should not use this same resource to find fugitives or encourage members of the public to use social networking sites to report sightings of criminals.

Recently, police departments — in municipalities as large as Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada and as small as Brunswick, Maine in the U.S. — have created presences on Facebook to communicate more efficiently with the public. I’m happy to see this trend develop across Canada and around the world, including in the U.S. where the municipality of Boston is now using social media to track down stolen bikes. We’ll continue to work hard to make sure law enforcement is taking full advantage of today’s communication tools. All of us can do our part by using the Internet not just to keep up with friends but also to help keep our communities safe.