Law enforcement agencies turn to social media to solve crimes

The Williamson County Sheriff said posting a photo of an abandoned child on social media Saturday night helped officers locate the parents within 15 minutes. 

More law enforcement agencies, including the Williamson County Sheriff's Office, are using social media as a tool to help solve crimes.

“There have been way more positives than negatives with social media,” said Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody.  

That’s why Chody has encouraged his officers to utilize social media as a way to help solve crimes.

“It works. It's powerful and it's a tool we intend to use now and continue as long as I'm sheriff,” Chody said.  

Chody said the response to one of his tweets Saturday night proves just how helpful social media can be. 

“We got calls for service for an abandoned child in a community pool area, splash pad area,” said Chody.  

When officers arrived they were told the child's father dropped him off and left the scene, but no one on scene could identify the boy or his father. 

“We were left with no recourse. We had no idea what to do at this point. We tried traditional investigation techniques, we tried looking at security cameras at the scene,” Chody said.  

Although it's not something Chody would normally do, the sheriff said out of desperation he posted a picture of the boy on Twitter and asked for help identifying him and locating his parents. 

“In 15 minutes we had an address, a location and we had detectives on scene talking to the father,” said Chody.  

The Williamson County Sheriff's Office isn't the only law enforcement agency solving crimes with the help of social media. Rollingwood Police Department also turns to Facebook and Nextdoor when they need a little help. 

“We're a real small shop here in Rollingwood, so social media to us is a force multiplier. We're able to reach out to a lot more folks on a couple different platforms and just let them know what's going on in the community and hopefully help us solve a few crimes,” said Rollingwood Police Chief Max Westbrook.  

Westbrook said there are also some downfalls to the popularity of social media. 

“A lot of people are using social media or our non-emergency line when they actually should be calling 911,” Westbrook said. 

“People will contact us about crimes on social media and I'm always saying, ‘Call 911, call 911,’ and they don't think it's a 911 type call and I will reiterate that it is,” Chody agreed.  

The Austin Police Department said they also utilize social media to help solve crimes and identify suspects.

But they, like Rollingwood Police Department and the Williamson County Sheriff's Office, do not monitor their social media accounts at all hours of the day. 

All three agencies encourage people to call 911 to report a crime in progress and not to report crimes on social media accounts.