Social media isn't just for sharing random thoughts, restaurant reviews or vacation blogs any more.

In Reynoldsburg, it's become a crime-fighting tool for the city's police department. Three weeks ago, detectives were able to identify a man suspected of attempting to kidnap a baby and a woman suspected of shoplifting items from a major retailer by posting surveillance photos of the two on Facebook and on neighborhood web pages.

"As tips began to pour in, it was clear to us just how involved the community wants to be in combating crime," detective Nikki Riley said.

"We, along with several other central Ohio police agencies, have decided to embrace the increase in social media users and to use it as another tool in the job," she said.

In the abduction case, officers responded about 2:30 p.m. Jan. 26 to the Sunoco gas station at Brice Road and East Livingston Avenue, where a woman reported a man had tried to kidnap her infant.

She told police she had exited her vehicle with the baby carrier when an unknown man approached her, asked if the baby was sleeping, then tried to pull the carrier from her arms.

A witness yelled at the man not to touch the baby as the mother held on to the carrier. She and the baby were able to return to their car unharmed.

Riley said Reynoldsburg police posted surveillance photos taken when the man was inside the gas station on the department's Facebook page and on several neighborhood websites.

Police have identified the man, but have not released his name because the case is still pending, Riley said. As of Feb. 12, no charges had been filed.

In the shoplifting incident, police posted a photo of a woman taken as she left the Best Buy story in Taylor Square after she and two accomplices allegedly stole Xbox and PlayStation game consoles.

She, too, was soon identified, Riley said, but again, police have not released her name because charges against her are pending and had not been filed by Feb. 12.

"Social media can be useful in reactive situations, as we saw, but we use it to be proactive as well," Riley said. "If there is a crime pattern we are monitoring and we need to warn the public, we feel this is the best way to reach the optimal amount of citizens."

She said the department often posts information to educate the public -- for instance, the laws about stopping for a school bus or a piece about vacation safety tips.

"We also use postings to notify citizens of traffic-pattern changes, reductions in speed limits and current construction areas to assist them in their commute," she said.

Community Resource Officer Tony Hines said social media could be the best way to reach people.

"Everybody seems to be plugged in some way or somehow most of the day," he said. "It seems like a good idea to start communicating with the public in ways that best fit in with their day-to-day activities."

He said the police department has been using social media since before Facebook became as popular as it is now.

"We also use smart phone apps such as NextDoor to help us in our operations and investigations," he said.

The use of social media doesn't just help catch the bad guys, Hines said.

"We use social media to promote positive things such as community events or to educate the community on things we feel they need to know," he said. "In late 2017, we used social media to collect close to 200 pairs of new and gently used shoes that were donated to a Columbus city school for kids who needed appropriate shoes for winter weather."

Hines said he encourages anyone who doesn't follow their local law enforcement agency on social media to do so.

"The main focus for those outlets is to keep you safe and informed," he said.

Riley said social media gets to the point -- fast.

"Someone who may not have time to sit down and read an entire news article or watch a whole news story most likely has time to read a short Facebook post and share it with others in a matter of minutes," she said. "We are able to reach an endless number of people, since social media is not limited to a certain geographical region."

She said citizens should be "the eyes and ears for our officers."

"Residents know when something doesn't seem right or looks out of place in their neighborhoods," she said. "Although our officers diligently patrol the streets, we cannot be everywhere all of the time."

Riley said for a fast police response, however, people should not try to contact officers on Facebook.

"Our Facebook account is not monitored constantly and should anyone have an active situation requiring an immediate police response, please call 911 or the nonemergency line at 614-866-6622," she said.



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