The Estevan Police Service's (EPS) foray into social media has proven very fruitful.
The police service has built up a network of nearly 700 followers since its debut about 2 1/2 months ago, making it one of the most actively followed Twitter accounts in the Energy City.
Their followers have helped them with four crimes that might have otherwise gone unsolved. The most recent was a break, enter and theft at the Cowtown store on August 20.
Police posted photos of the suspects on their Twitter feed, and the alleged culprits were arrested on the 21st. The property was recovered, and returned to the business.
Chief Paul Ladouceur said Twitter followers have also assisted police with a serious assault, the theft of an all-terrain vehicle, and the theft of some cash.
Charges have been laid in connection with one of those crimes, Ladouceur said, and they're pending against someone for another crime. In the case of the ATV, it was recovered, and police are still looking for a suspect.
"These are significant offences," Police Chief Paul Ladouceur told Lifestyles. "In a very short period of time, we had people contacting us and advising that they had seen the photos – the surveillance photos – on our Twitter feed, and as a result, we were able to identify those parties, and subsequently lay appropriate charges.
"I suspect that this is going to continue. We started out (on Twitter in June), and within a very short time, the number of followers grew quite rapidly, which was pleasing to see. And each day you can see it's growing and growing."
They have also received tips on other unsolved crimes.
"It has opened the doors to communication … with the community in a very quick fashion, and I have had people actually come into my office and provide information directly to me," said Ladouceur.
Ladouceur reasons that if someone has committed a crime, and is wanted by police, then the chief wants the public to know about it.
"Rather than having four or five officers looking for this individual, we now have a community of 12,000 looking for this individual," he said.
Twitter isn't just for unsolved crimes, he said. If there's a public safety message the EPS wants to communicate, they have the Twitter account at their disposal. And they'll use it to let the public know what officers are doing in the community.
People have also used Twitter to send speeding and other traffic concerns to the EPS.
"It's not a one-way communication, it's certainly a two-way communication," said Ladouceur.
Ladouceur said he isn't surprised that the police's entry into social media has generated such a strong reaction. He witnessed it previously when he was in Brockville, Ontario.
"Certainly I figured that we would have those outcomes," said Ladouceur. "It's always nice to have those outcomes, but what works in one community might not work as well in another community, either."
And if it didn't work out, it wouldn't have cost the police service or the taxpayers anything, he said.
The police service has also started to develop a new website. The Twitter feed can be accessed through the site, and the contact portion of the site – which includes the EPS address, numbers to contact for emergency and non-emergency purposes, and phone numbers for Victim Services and Crime Stoppers – has been uploaded.
More information will be on the website in the coming weeks.
"We're working quickly to get the website up and running, and that will compliment Twitter, and it will be a huge source of information," said Ladouceur.
The public can expect the website to have everything from details on people who are wanted on outstanding warrants, to safety messages, to information on what is happening within the community.
"It's just one other method of keeping the lines of communication open with the public," said Ladouceur.
Ladouceur reiterated his belief that the police service is only as strong as the community it serves, and the support that it receives from its residents.
"The police can't go out and talk to everybody personally all day long," said Ladouceur. "We try to get officers out there on the beat, but they do have to respond to calls for service, too."
The police will also continue to use local media, like newspapers, to communicate with the public, Ladouceur said. He noted that social media can't replace traditional media, because there are still a lot of people who don't use Twitter and other services, and many people still don't have access to the internet.