Can public shaming of suspected criminals actually hurt police investigations?

TACOMA, Wash. -- This is the season for thieves on the prowl for freshly delivered packages.

Homeowners know this too, and many are fighting back by installing surveillance cameras – and then posting the criminal activity on social media.

But police said doing so could actually causes problems for investigators: The problem often starts when strangers try to do their own police work.

Brandon, who runs a community watch site on Facebook called Tacompton Files, says posting surveillance videos showing crooks in the act helps his neighbors stay informed.

“We had a lot of trouble with people breaking in the back door, coming and going,” he said, pointing to the boarded up home next door to his house.

Brandon and his family got so tired of the crooks poking around his area that they installed high definition surveillance cameras on his roof.

“There really wasn’t a great way to hide it,” he said.

When he records something he thinks showcases suspicious behavior in his neighborhood, the video gets posted online.

“People started catching on in the neighborhood and they started telling other people,” he said.

Police said what Brandon and others are doing is totally legal.

“You can post the pictures anywhere you want,” said Tacoma police spokesperson Loretta Cool. “There’s nothing illegal about that.”

But police said the problem comes in when civilians try to do their own detective work.

“Where it goes wrong is when they try to do their own investigation,” Cool said.

Police said strangers can sometimes incorrectly identify criminals on social media – and doing so could jeopardize cases that end up in court.

“We get a lot of wrong identifications and it muddies the ability to actually prosecute somebody for a case,” said Cool.

Police said surveillance video is still an excellent crime fighting tool – but investigators would rather victims hand over the video to police, instead of posting everything online first.