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Pages

To Catch A Suspect — On Pinterest

Originally published on December 7, 2012 9:35 am

Pinterest is known as a place where people share recipes, crafts or fashion. But a new set of images have started showing up on the social media site: mug shots.

Bonnie Stankunas has come to the post office in Pottstown, Pa., her entire life. She remembers, as a kid, spotting "most wanted" posters hung on a wall.

"It kind of reminded me of the Wild, Wild West," Stankunas says.

None of the people at this post office remembers exactly when the posters went away, but the FBI stopped sending the notices out a couple of years ago.

People often see wanted people on television news or online news sites. Stankunas says she has heard of Pinterest but hasn't figured out how to use it.

She's not alone, but Pinterest is one of the fastest-growing social media sites out there. It works best to share images — or, as it's called on Pinterest, "pin" them.

A crime reporter at The Mercury in Pottstown had the idea to start a gallery of mug shots of people wanted by the police. Pottstown Police Capt. F. Richard Drumheller says calls came in to his tip line right away.

"We've actually seen a 57 percent increase in our warrant services, and we actually got more people based on our tips and our calls," Drumheller says.

"Warrant services" is police speak for arrests.

"For us it's like, 'Yes,' because it's very enjoyable in police work when the public helps you," Drumheller says.

This isn't a most wanted list. Pottstown has a couple of dozen photos up at a time, all people with outstanding warrants — from DUI to theft to assault. Drumheller says some people even called to say they had seen their own mug shot online and asked how to turn themselves in to authorities.

"Yeah, it's funny how you act sometimes when people know what your business is," Drumheller says.

When it comes to social media, police departments can overshare like the rest of us. Lauri Stevens does social media consulting for law enforcement. She says people got upset when a prosecutor in Texas started tweeting names of people 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," Stevens says.

Women make up 80 percent of Pinterest users, so they're especially likely to be exposed to the images.

"It's going to be the younger-ish women, who are decision-makers, heads of households, or at least the decision-makers running the family. They are the ones who are going to be most engaged," Stevens says.

This tool can also shine a spotlight on a small police department. The results in Pottstown got noticed by police in Philadelphia, who were already solving crimes with social media.

Philadelphia's use of social media has produced tips leading to arrests in a lot of cases — from a man who killed an officer to someone in South Philly who kept stealing fake flowers off of someone's porch. The department is using Pinterest in the same way, to help identify suspects, thanks to Cpl. Frank Domizio. His wife was already a fan.

She encouraged him to start the police department's site, which he did last month. He says he's pressuring her to start repinning some felons.

Copyright 2013 WHYY, Inc.. To see more, visit http://www.whyy.org.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The social media site Pinterest is known as a place where people share recipes and crafts, fashion and ideas for weddings. Now added to the mix of ideas and images: mug shots. It's a way for local police to get their wanted lists in front of a lot more eyes. For member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Emma Jacobs reports.

BONNIE STANKUNAS: You looked busy before.

(LAUGHTER)

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Bonnie Stankunas has come to this post office in Pottstown, Pennsylvania her entire life. She remembers, as a kid, spotting the most wanted posters hung on a wall.

STANKUNAS: It kind of reminded me of the Wild, Wild West.

JACOBS: None of the people at this post office remember exactly when the posters went away, but the FBI stopped sending the notices out a couple of years ago. People see wanted posters on television news or online news sites.

Oh, and have you ever heard of Pinterest, the platform?

STANKUNAS: I have, but I haven't figured out how to use it yet.

JACOBS: She's not alone, but Pinterest is one of the fastest-growing social media sites out there. It works best to share images - or as it's called on Pinterest, pin them. A crime reporter at the Pottstown Mercury had the idea to start a gallery of mug shots of people wanted by police. Pottstown police captain Richard Drumheller says calls came into his tip line right away.

RICHARD DRUMHELLER: We've actually seen a 57 percent increase in our warrant services, which means that we actually got more people based on our tips and our calls.

JACOBS: Warrant services is police-speak for arrests.

DRUMHELLER: For us it's, like, yes, because it's very enjoyable in police work when the public helps you.

JACOBS: This isn't a most wanted list. Pottstown has a couple dozen photos up at a time, all people with outstanding warrants from DUI to theft to assault. Drumheller says some people even called to say they had seen their own mug shot online and asked how to turn themselves in.

DRUMHELLER: Yeah, it's funny how you act sometimes when people know what your business is.

JACOBS: When it comes to social media, police departments can over-share, just like the rest of us. Lauri Stevens does social media consulting for law enforcement. She says people got upset when a prosecutor in Texas started tweeting the names of people arrested for DUIs on holidays. But Stevens says Pinterest has a lot of potential.

LAURI STEVENS: This is a way to get all of those people out there, all of the time, in front of more people.

JACOBS: Especially women, who make up 80 percent of Pinterest users.

STEVENS: It's going to be the younger-ish women who are decision-makers, heads of households, or at least, you know, the decision-makers running the family. They're the ones who are going to be most engaged.

JACOBS: This tool can also shine a spotlight on a small police department. The results in Pottstown got noticed by police in Philadelphia, who were already solving crimes with social media. At his desk, Corporal Frank Domizio pulls up a YouTube video of security camera footage.

FRANK DOMIZIO: The suspect - now he's walking inside, obviously pointing a gun at the people working in the store and demanding money.

JACOBS: Philadelphia's use of social media has produced tips leading to arrests in lots of cases, from a man who killed an officer to someone in South Philly who kept stealing fake flowers off of someone's porch. The department's using Pinterest in the same way, to help identify suspects, thanks to Domizio. His wife was already a fan.

DOMIZIO: Recipes and home interior design things and kids. You know, I have two kids.

JACOBS: She encouraged him to start the police department site, which he did last month. He says he's pressuring her to start re-pinning some felons.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs, in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.