We’ve all seen the old westerns where the bank gets robbed and immediately the sheriff gathers up a posse to chase after the bad guys. They saddle up their ponies and head off into the countryside scouring the hills until the crooks are captured and held to answer for their heinous crimes.
This past week we saw the new version of the modern posse put into full force.
With the escape of some serious bad guys, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens saw an immediate need to get the public involved in the search for these potentially dangerous suspects.
By informing the public, not only were there hundreds of officers but also thousands of citizens keeping their eyes open.
There really was no place the trio could go without looking over their shoulders. We were all on the lookout.
Mainstream media covered the story daily. But even more importantly, social media fed the escapees’ names and faces into countless social media postings.
What started as a regional story soon went national, and there was no place for the suspects to hide.
I’m sure every place the suspects went there was a sense of paranoia wondering if they would be recognized.
The sheriff’s frequent news conferences and updates kept the story in the public eye.
Every time I checked my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I saw the postings being distributed and shared by hundreds if not thousands of users.
The strategy worked.
One of the suspects apparently knew it was over. Through a friend, he surrendered to authorities. Hundreds of miles away in San Francisco, an informed citizen contacted nearby police officers and the two remaining suspects were taken into custody.
The combined use of traditional and social media to capture these suspects is a testament to law enforcement’s use of media and technology to engage the public.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is to be commended for recognizing that an informed public is our most effective crime-fighting tool.
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.