SEBRING - For law enforcement, Facebook is becoming a way not only to communicate with the public, but also to enlist the aid of citizens in solving cases.
"If we work for the public, the public will work for us," Sebring Police Chief Tom Dettman said. "It's reaching out to the general public."
Recently, the department did just that by posting photos of a vehicle that was part of a hit-and-run accident in the parking lot. Police are hoping someone can provide information on the case and identify who owns the vehicle, he said.
They have also posted videos from other cases, he said.
Another initiative, similar to the Twelve Days of Christmas, is the Twelve Scams of Christmas.
Each day the police department posts a tip about avoiding a particular scam, Dettman said.
The Sebring Police Department also shares information about events downtown and other news of interest to the public, such as road closures.
So far the Sebring Police Department has not headed in the same direction as the Lake Placid Police Department in posting mug shots of those arrested on driving under the influence charges. Dettman said his staff, including Lu Mibrecht, a detective who helps administer the department's Facebook page, will consider adding that information.
Lake Placid Police Chief James Fansler said he hasn't received complaints about the mug shots. Fansler said even if the person is acquitted of the charge or the charge is reduced, there are no plans to remove the photos.
"We're not saying anything about the conviction process," he said.
Fansler said the department also plans to use its Facebook page to provide the public with information about cases that may help solve crimes.
Nell Hays, public information officer for the Highlands County Sheriff's Office, said the office uses Facebook to educate people about ways to avoid crime. They've also shared information about crimes that have occurred, and missing person cases, Hays said.
As for providing photos or videos of crimes or crime scenes, that's done on a "case-by-case" basis, she said.
The problem is that often photos or video provided by cameras at businesses, for example, are of poor quality.
If that's the case, she said, "we don't feel that (posting the video or photo) serves any purpose," she said. "We certainly see the value of social media.'
Hays wouldn't comment whether the department looks at Facebook profiles of suspects to get information, but Dettman said he encourages detectives to use all resources.
"It's open to everyone who wants to read it, including the police department," he said.
He said the department's Facebook page is popular with a lot of people and it has about 1,200 likes from Facebook users.
But just because you're a Facebook friend of the department doesn't mean you'll avoid a speeding ticket, he said.
"We might not give tickets to our mothers, but we might give one to one of our Facebook friends," Dettman quipped.