Richmond among police agencies using social networking site

By Shawntaye Hopkins

Male

89 years old

Richmond, Kentucky

United States

Scroll down this MySpace.com page. The About Me section reveals more appropriate details about the user than the biographical sketch, including the page creator’s mission: to protect life and and reduce crime.

The page belongs to the Richmond Police Department.

Three Kentucky police departments have created pages on the popular social-networking Web site to obtain crime-solving tips from the public, alert communities about investigations and deter online child predators. The tool is part of a national trend aimed at younger audiences and sparked by increasingly tech-savvy communities.

“It’s been very helpful,” said Richmond police Sgt. Willard Reardon, who checks the page almost every day. “If you get one crime solved, it’s been worth its time to do it.”

Richmond police once found a man who was wanted for months after someone sent police a MySpace message about the suspect’s whereabouts, said Reardon. He said the page was created about three years ago, after detectives at the department suggested using MySpace as a crime-solving tool.

Alexandria police were inspired by Richmond’s use of the social networking site and started a page about a year ago. Richmond has the No. 1 spot in the Alexandria Police Department’s top 12 friends.

Alexandria police Lt. Dan Wittrock said crimes have been reported through the site by people who may not have interacted with law enforcement without the MySpace Page.

Neither department has befriended Louisville Police — Internet Crimes Against Children, which created a MySpace page about 9 months ago. But several teenagers have signed up as friends with the unit, and police say that could reduce the risk that they’ll become victims of child predators. MySpace requires users to be 14 or older.

The Lexington Division of Police does not have a MySpace page. But the division has discussed MySpace as a tool to reach a larger audience, including young people, Officer Ann Gutierrez, a Lexington police spokeswoman, said.

Louisville police Detective Dan Jackman said he tells teen-agers about the page when he visits schools, and he urges parents to have their children place Louisville police among their top friends so the department’s badge — the profile picture — will show up on the MySpace user’s main page.

“That’s a deterrent,” Jackman said. “They may find another child … but maybe not this one.”

Louisville “pimped” its profile with cartoon penguins using Pimp-my-profile.com, a layout design site. It includes a video message from the Department of Justice’s Project Safe Childhood and a RSS feed of children missing nationwide.

On Richmond’s page, general interests — where users typically lists activities such as reading and shopping — listed include finding a named suspect in a Richmond robbery and a stabbing last month. The department also posts photos of police cruisers, crime suspects and bundles of marijuana and cash from drug busts.

Then there’s the extra details MySpace requests from users that don’t pertain to police departments: The age is false because there’s a maximum number the site will allow, the department is not a Sagittarius, and Reardon said the mood was set to ”accomplished“ because that was more appropriate than other options such as ”angry“ and ”blah.“

Visit Alexandria’s MySpace page for photos and information about police programs, all set to the Bad Boys theme from Cops.

MySpace — a site that has largely been used by teen-agers, celebrities, entertainers and, most recently, politicians — was discussed as a tool for police during a nationwide training about Internet crimes that Jackman said he attended last year in Columbus, Ohio.

Jackman said he was familiar with MySpace through his work; Internet Crimes Against Children is a section within the Crimes Against Children Unit. Some children tell Louisville police about incidents such as online harassment to avoid consequences of alerting a school counselor or parent who may not allow them to continue using the Internet, he said.

Louisville police may later create profiles on Facebook and other social-networking sites.

MySpace works with law enforcement in investigations and prosecutions, officials with the social-networking site say. And 11 states, including Kentucky, have laws that require sex offenders to register e-mail addresses, which are blocked from the site.

Alexandria police welcome tips from the community through any venue, Wittrock said.

“Whatever the person feels comfortable doing,” Wittrock said. “As long as we receive that information, that’s all that’s important.”

Police departments’ MySpace pages


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