Through online databases and the ever-increasing use of social media, metro-area authorities are relying on tips from the public to help them solve crimes more than ever before.
This month, six law enforcement agencies announced their participation in a national database program that allows officers to track crimes, traffic accidents and other emergency calls by accessing an online map.
The program, called ATACRAIDS, allows officers to enter information into the system and share it with other agencies, helping investigators link crimes.
Last week, the program went public, and officers in the six agencies (Oklahoma City, Midwest City, Edmond, Moore, Norman and Bethany police departments) are hoping residents will begin to monitor the database and pass along tips and information to authorities.
Oklahoma City Police Capt. Paco Balderrama said his department is close to finishing another, more detailed database that will allow residents to track criminals convicted of sexual and violent crimes in their neighborhoods.
Some law enforcement officials say they are optimistic about the ATACRAIDS program, given that the digital age has created a generation of individuals who understand technology and how to use it to solve problems.
Sarah Jensen, spokeswoman for the Norman Police Department, said it uses tools such as ATACRAIDS to boost awareness and is hopeful it will encourage people to report crimes.
Jensen said this is already becoming the case thanks to the pervasiveness of social media.
“Social media is kind of replacing things that we used to do,” Jensen said.
“We actually get a lot more tips that are posted on social media than we do with Crime Stoppers.”
Crime Stoppers is an anonymous telephone tip line where people can report information on recent or upcoming criminal activity.
“I know for so long Crime Stoppers worked so well because it was an anonymous program,” she said.
“What’s interesting is that people on social media are giving us tips even with their names and profiles attached to them.”
Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow said investigators with the Oklahoma City Police Department are seeing the same trend.
“We’re finding more and more that social media is really, really beneficial,” Wardlow said.
She attributes the rise in crime tips from sources that are not anonymous to a sense of privacy residents feel when reporting crimes from their computers, rather than in person.
“I think that people get behind a keyboard and they still feel like they are anonymous,” she said. “They’re not standing there talking to the officer in person or on the phone.”
Wardlow, noting a specific robbery case from this year, said the rise in tips from social media means crimes sometimes can be solved within a matter of hours.
“We put the (crime) information and photos out on Facebook,” she said. “It was under an hour that we had the suspect identified, and within the day they were in custody.”