Police in Maine join social networking sites

Posted March 16, 2009, at 11:07 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Social networking Web sites aren’t just for keeping in touch with friends and family. A growing number of law enforcement agencies — including several in Maine — have added such sites as Facebook and MySpace — to their crime-fighting and community relations arsenals.

The Auburn Police Department made headlines last month when it cracked a hotel spa vandalism case by posting still photographs taken from a surveillance video on its 3-week-old Facebook page. As a result, three teenage boys were identified and charged in connection with the crime.

Several other police agencies, including the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Old Town, Greenville and Presque Isle police departments, also have posted pages of their own.

Greenville police Sgt. Jeff Pomerleau — who acknowledges that he’s not a “techie” — said that social networking sites are user-friendly, used and viewed by people of all ages and, in most cases, free.

Though police in Greenville haven’t yet been able to credit their Facebook site for solving a crime, Pomerleau is confident that day will come.

“It’s not a matter of if — it’s a matter of when,” he said.

Old Town police Officer Lori Renzullo built a page for her department after taking a class on social networking sites offered to Maine police officers by a detective from New Hampshire.

“We’re getting about 150 page views a day,” Renzullo said late last week. “So far, it’s been really well-received.”

Like many others of its kinds, the Old Town Police Department’s Facebook page includes photos of local “most wanted” people, information about police department programs, photographs and links to information the public might find useful.

A visit to the site shows that it has almost 100 “fans” or friends so far.

Renzullo and Pomerleau both said residents and others are using the Facebook sites to ask questions and alert officers about issues affecting the community.

Pomerleau said the Facebook presence helps humanize officers, who often come across as intimidating.

“People like to see our pages and see pictures of our families, our pets …,” he said.

The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s site includes a link for posting anonymous tips about drug activities, as well as profiles of fugitive drug dealers and notes about recent busts by agents.

dgagnon@bangordailynews.net

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