Joe Giacalone is @coldcasesquad

The explosive growth of social media has been amazing to watch. As a former law enforcement officer I used social media during investigations to try and tap into the electronic street for information. Whether it was to track the whereabouts of wanted individuals or to try and catch a tidbit of information, social media often provides what you seek when properly used. Now, that I am retired, I am exploring new ways that LEOs can use social media to help solve more cases by using the existing tools that are already out there. The focus of this article is how law enforcement can use social media to help stoke interest in cold cases. I was surprised to see how many police department websites don’t have a page dedicated to missing persons and unsolved crimes.

Social media can play a bifurcated role in help solving cold cases. First, for the victim’s family, it keeps the case relevant. There is no better way to give the case life then injecting a fresh look at things. Birthdays, incident dates and holidays can all be used to garner information. Using social media also helps bridge the gap that develops in cold cases between the family and the police. It brings good will and a renewed interest. However, before I started any social media campaign for a cold case, I would ensure two things: 1) that the case has some solvability factors and 2) that I spoke with the family and explained what is happening before going live. Family members always want to see the case closed with an arrest, however, the emotions brought out when renewing the relationship weighs heavily on them.

For LEOs, social media provides a home base for the collection and dissemination of intelligence information for people that knew the victim(s), followed the case carefully and may be able to provide further information. It can also serve as a database of eyewitnesses that now may have scattered throughout the nation or identify ones that were originally reluctantly to come forward. With the many location finders on social media, investigators can save hundreds of hours tracking down people that were involved with the case. What is better than them coming to you? In essence, the social media page acts as an online memorial and tribute to the victim. They always seem to bring about chatter and conversations which may in turn provide a viable lead. It is important that the page be monitored and investigators should respond and engage comments posted on the site.

Whenever you create a website or post, you have to think about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is a tricky thing for non-techies like myself, so I will encourage you to read up on it. However, there are a few simple things that you can do so that your site gets the maximum attention from search engines. Make sure you include Tags and or Labels. Tags and Labels are the words that describe what is in your post and will be picked up by search engines and each platform, Blogger, WordPress, etc. calls them different things, but they have the same goal, optimization.

When designing a cold case page or post, ensure you include the following tags and or labels so that if anyone inputs the label in a search, your post will show up in the results:

  • Victim’s name
  • Hometown
  • Location of the incident (if known)
  • Date of incident
  • Local Police Department’s name and contact info

Social media can help investigators garner new information and leads, however, it is still the mainstream media that drives the point home. Many cold cases come from the era that predated the Internet, so television news spots, newspapers and radio are still vital in investigations. That demographic cannot be ignored. Social media can be used to attract the mainstream media, which can gauge the public’s interest on a particular case and cover it, supplying law enforcement with the amount of exposure necessary to turn the heat up on cold cases.