Recently, there has been an increase in the number of missing persons highlighted by York County Police Departments on their website and social media accounts.
But that’s not because more people are missing from the county; That’s because departments have found the internet to be a powerful tool for quickly finding those who have one.
“We saw that the posts were successful so we focused on getting this information out to the public in the hope that we can find the missing person/juvenile in time,” said the York City Police Commissioner. Daniel Lentz.
It helped York City Police quickly locate a 13-year-old who went missing last week. The department reported seven missing people in the past month, and most of them have been found safe.
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Other police departments in the area have used the internet not only to find missing persons, but also to help identify suspects for specific crimes.
West York Borough Police Chief Matthew Millsaps uses it on a case-by-case basis when dealing with missing persons.
“It’s very complicated and we have to weigh a lot of things,” Millsaps said.
For example, if the department has someone with dementia or mental disorders who has defected, Millsaps said there is an urgent need to publicize them on social media platforms as they may be at risk.
“We recognize the (immediacy) of the threat that exists (to them),” Millsaps said. “We also recognize that there are people who follow social media, which are primarily follower groups in the West York area, so they may be able to see the person in real time and make a report.”
According to Millsaps, if there was an alleged kidnapping of a child, they would cast a wider net using Amber Alerts as well as social media platforms.
Posting someone who may have run away, Millsaps said, gets a little more complicated. In these cases they have a dedicated juvenile officer who handles these calls.
“Obviously they’re running away from something and you’re trying to identify the root causes of why they’re running away,” Millsaps said.
In these cases, the juvenile officer looks for resources that could help that runaway and bring him back into the home.
When all resources are exhausted to find these outliers, they will post it on social media, Millsaps said. In those cases, he said, finding them again is very effective, since there’s a good chance someone they know will see it and say where they might be hiding.
After these youths were found, Millsaps said they will tear down those posts after they’ve been up for 24 hours because they don’t need to have a constant memory of other people’s comments months later.
“We use social media as a tool,” Millsaps said, “but it’s not a panacea. There are specific instances where we recognize that posting it could be harmful in the long run.”
Many departments use CRIMEWATCH to share information about missing and suspects.
West Manchester Township Police Chief John Snyder said it was a great and easy-to-use tool.
“It really helped us identify suspects,” Snyder said. “It (also) sends information across multiple social media platforms.”