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Iowa law enforcement use social media to help solve case

SIOUX CITY , Iowa — Sometimes Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew uses Twitter to share information about active investigations or road conditions. Other times he'll tweet about baseball or his grandchildren.

"I'm Sheriff Dave Drew - that's my title," he said. "But that doesn't mean I don't post things unrelated to work. It shows the human side of the profession, like a little humor."

Drew said while social media can help humanize law enforcement, there also can be several pros and cons as more law enforcement agencies turn to Twitter and Facebook to solve cases.

When the Sheriff's Office investigated the case of a man suspected of impersonating an officer in February near Correctionville and Anthon, Iowa, the victims described their plights on Facebook, which created a windstorm of chatter before officials released information about the case.

But Drew said too much information is better than none. Fewer people call the Sheriff's Office with information about cases and instead choose to air their concerns on the Internet, he said.


"It's funny that sometimes people just don't call, and they share it on social media," Drew said. "That's how we get that information.

That can be troublesome because sometimes information on social media can tip off a potential suspect into hiding, Drew said, but the benefits outweigh the risks, the Sioux City Journal (http://bit.ly/1D5FMJR ) reports.

"We put that information out ourselves knowing this person could go into hiding," Drew said. "What we want people to do is share that information."

Officer Chad Sheehan with the Sioux City Police Department said though social media can provide additional work for law enforcement, a more convenient way to talk to the public is worth the trade-off.

"They can communicate with us, and we can communicate right back," Sheehan said. "I think it falls right in line with our community policing philosophy of the department - to work with the community rather than against the community."

In addition to local law enforcement, the Iowa State Patrol began an initiative in mid-February to have a stronger social media presence on Twitter.

Trooper Vince Kurtz, a spokesman for the State Patrol, said law enforcement agencies should use social media as an information and educational tool in an effort to stay ahead of online rumors or false tips.

"I see social media as an asset for the Iowa State Patrol and law enforcement in general," Kurtz said. "It has the capability to get that information out in a timely fashion."


In the case of the person suspected of impersonating a Woodbury County Sheriff's deputy, Kurtz said it's important to keep tabs on social media and respond before information becomes too scattered.

"It gets replayed in social media, and it kind of builds in the social media arena," he said. "It's important we take it seriously."

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