DIY detective work could hurt local law enforcement's criminal cases, sheriff's office says

SEATTLE – Law enforcement is urging social media users to be aware -- their DIY detective work may be hindering criminal investigations.

They may seem like the perfect things to share, in order to guarantee justice for friends and neighbors, but surveillance video posts of criminals in action could actually hurt the chances of a case being solved.

“Social media is a double-edged sword,” said Cindi West with King County Sheriff’s Office.

“There are times where we might be on to a suspect, but once they see their post all over the place, they might start dumping the stolen property, start getting rid of the car they were driving,” she said. “It might actually start hindering the investigation.”

It happened most recently in Bellevue, when neighbors shared a series of screen grabs of a particular SUV. The SUV was the one police were looking for in connection to the crime. Police asked neighbors to stop, before the suspects could be tipped off. It worked, and police made arrests soon after.

“People need to remember before they start posting stuff to at least talk to the agency that’s investigating it to make sure they want it posted,” said West.

“They said that one was new for them,” said Duncan MacDiarmid, speaking about the video he shared to the site Next Door.

He captured a criminal using a blow torch for two hours, trying to burn the door jam of his garage door.

“It’s definitely something no one had caught on a video camera yet.”

Within hours of discovering he had the video, MacDiarmid shared it with his Maple Leaf neighbors.

“I think we all have the same goal, catch people if possible and keep them out of our neighborhood,” he said.

It’s worked for the Maple Leaf neighborhood in the past. Erik Karlson used surveillance video to help police catch what turned out to be a sexual predator prowling his wife’s car.

“There are so many good things that come out of people using social media or even surveillance cameras,” said West. “We’ve been able to catch quite a few suspects, just because people had home video of a break-in or some other crime.”

Law enforcement are the first ones to suggest surveillance cameras as a tool to protect your family and your property. But they’re asking people to stop and ask, before you post and share.

“There have been times where it’s like ‘please don’t post that, we’re on to somebody and we think that might jeopardize the investigation,’” said West.

More often than not, they tell people to share the information they have with their friends and neighbors, because it can lead to solid leads and quick arrests.

“We post it on Washington’s Most Wanted, and two days later I am getting 20 tips naming the suspect,” said West. “Social media has been a really good tool.”