Using Pinterest to find Philly's most-wanted
December 5, 2012By Emma Jacobs
The social media site Pinterest is known as a place where people share recipes, crafts or fashion.
But a new set of images have started showing up: mugshots from Southeast Pennsylvania police precincts.
Bonnie Stankunas remembers the "most wanted" posters that used to hang in the Pottstown post office she has visited her entire life.
"It kind of reminded me of the wild, wild West," she recalled.
She had heard of Pinterest but, she says, "I haven't figured out how to use it."
While she's not alone, Pinterest is one of the fastest-growing social media sites out there with an emphasis on sharing images.
A crime reporter at the Pottstown Mercury had the idea to use the site to start a gallery of mugshots of people wanted by the police.
As soon as the mugshots appeared, says Pottstown police Capt. Richard Drumheller, the police tip line got more calls right away.
"We've actually seen a 57 percent increase in our warrant services," said Drumheller. (Warrant services is police speak for arrests.) "It's very enjoyable in police work when the public helps you."
This isn't a "most wanted" list. Pottstown is posting pictures of everyone with outstanding warrants for everything from driving under the influence to theft to assault.
Drumheller said some people have even called to say they had seen their own mugshot online, and asked how to turn themselves in.
"It's funny how you act sometimes when people know what your business is," he observed.
When it comes to social media, police departments can overshare like the rest of us.
Tapping the potential of Pinterest
Lauri Stevens, a social media consultant who works with law enforcement, recalled an incident in Texas when a prosecutor upset people by tweeting people who got arrested for DUIs on holidays.
But Stevens says Pinterest has a lot of potential.
"This is a way to get all of those people out there all the time in front of more people," she said, especially women who make up the vast majority of Pinterest users.
It can "exponentially increase the probability that somebody somewhere who knows something is going to see that mugshot," Stevens said.
This tool also served to shine a spotlight on the small police department in Pottstown, about 40 minutes outside Philadelphia in Montgomery County. Police in Philadelphia were impressed.
Philadelphia police Cpl. Frank Domizio explained that Philadelphia already used YouTube to post security camera videos. Those videos produced tips leading to arrests in lots of cases, from a man who killed an officer to a South Philly to a thief who kept taking fake flowers from a porch in the middle of the night.
"We got a tip and we were able to lock somebody up," he said.
The Philadelphia department is using Pinterest in the same way, to help identify suspects, thanks to Domizio, who said it didn't take much prodding to convince him to use Pinterest. His wife was already on it, he says, for "recipes and home interior design things, kids. I have two kids."
She encouraged him to start the police department's site, which he did last month. He has started pressuring her to start repinning some felons.