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Law Enforcement Turning To Social Media

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — More law enforcement agencies are turning to social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook to provide timely information to the public — and to help catch bad guys.

According to a survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 81 percent of the 728 agencies polled last year use social media, primarily to investigate crime or solicit tips from the public. The agencies also use the websites to help find missing people, or notify the public about road closures or weather emergencies.

The association’s Center for Social Media, which conducted the survey, has seen a major growth in agencies using social media this year.

“A lot of agencies are just starting to use it and are finding the best way to use it for the community,” said Nancy Kolb, who oversees the center.

In Minnesota, the Department of Public Safety recently used its Facebook page to alert people to a training exercise at the Monticello nuclear power plant. A message there said: “Residents who live near the plant should not be alarmed.”

St. Paul police released photos and surveillance video on Twitter this month to help catch the people who broke into the Como Park Zoo.

“More and more Minnesotans are turning to social media platforms to get their information,” Andy Skoogman, a spokesman for Minnesota Department of Public Safety, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “We need to provide this information through those avenues.”

Lauri Stevens, a Boston-based social media strategist for law enforcement agencies, said agencies that use social media may benefit from future public support. She added that when they answer questions from one citizen, they’re really informing many.

“It’s not a choice really anymore whether they use it,” said Stevens. “Any department that isn’t using it yet is really shortchanging itself.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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