Local law enforcement turning to Facebook to fight crime

KENNEWICK, Wash. -- Facebook has become very much a part of our everyday life. It's on our cell phones, laptops and most likely work computers too. So why not on the homepage of every police station? Well, it soon may be. The social networking site is now on track to become law enforcement's newest tool.

When trying to catch a criminal, you can do it the old way, dusting for prints and looking for clues, or you can do it the Ranch and Home way.

"It was instant, it was unbelievable the response," said Bill Dress, Owner of Ranch and Home. On Friday, when a tip jar for wounded veterans disappeared, Ranch and Home managers called the cops and then sent out a message to their cavalry - all 2,300.

"The police had dozens of phone calls before they even got the report filed," said Dress, impressed by his Facebook response. It's instant, but murky.

Facebook is a reality that our local law enforcement is now trying to harness. "Everybody is networked in some way and as soon as this gets out there and they share it, more people like it, it spreads," said Sgt. Ken Lattin, Kennewick Police. "Somebody knows something and can recognize somebody," he said.

"It's a great way to partner with the communityIt's a good way to assist, said Capt. Mike Cobb, but there's the other reality that "it's just now being viewed as a tool." Which means, says Cobb, it's far from perfect.

"It's a double edge sword. It can be an effective tool to identify information law enforcement has developed and ask for helpthe downside is if the public is left to develop its own investigations, that's when it can be harmfula lot of people can be wrongfully accused," said Cobb.

There's also the fact many cities still have prohibitions on using Facebook at work. It was put in place to save tax payer dollars due to lost productivity, but it's something police departments across the country have to fight. It's even something Richland police had to overcome in order to start their own page.

"That's a relatively recent development," said Cobb. Their Facebook page might be recent, but it's promising and adds to their arsenal against criminals.

"We haven't done as much with social media, but I can see that being one of the horizons we develop," said Cobb. Although Kennewick has yet to create their own page, it's not out of the question.

"It takes resources to do it right," said Lattin.

In the meantime, they're partnering with other agencies and even the victims themselves to monitor the community.

"People do care, and want to correct it, hold criminals accountable, that's the partnership we want to have in our community," said Lattin.

Kennewick police are still looking for the thief in the Ranch and Home video; Facebook tips have helped them eliminate some suspects.