NEWS9 Special Assignment: Faces of Crime
EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio —
Tips can be hard to come by for law enforcement. Many residents are concerned their identity may be compromised if they call 911.
The "See Something, Say Something" program at the East Liverpool Police Department allows people to call in anonymously about the potential criminal activity they’re seeing, and those tips are working.
Criminal offenders are being put behind bars. In this case, on Facebook, too.
It all started when the East Liverpool Police Department decided to post a photo of an overdosed couple with a small child in the back of a car. That was in September of 2016, and it quickly went viral.
It was meant to show just exactly what the drug epidemic looked like.
"That photo has made a difference not only here in East Liverpool, but all across the United States,” said East Liverpool Captain Patrick Wright.
It wasn't long after when they decided to put a different face to the drug problem.
"We have people from these bigger cities being brought in. They're selling their drugs. They're getting that big city mentality,” said Police Chief John Lane. “People from Baltimore, Detroit, Loraine, Columbus, we're getting them from all over the area."
Utilizing its Facebook page, the department posts pictures of people they arrest. Most of whom are suspected of drug activity in one fashion or another.
"We want the public to know that these are the people causing problems. Heck, they're killing people. These overdoses are because of these people,” Lane said.
Hundreds of busts, and dozens of posts. They all stem from their "See Something, Say Something" program.
The initiative encourages residents to call the department's anonymous tip line if they see something suspicious.
"If you want to take back your neighborhoods, when you see something you got to call. You got to report it,” Lane said. "We can't be everywhere. We can't see everything. We have to depend on the public to notify us when these things are happening."
Wright said when they first launched the program, they were flooded with calls.
"The citizens are tired of it,” Wright said. “They're tired of somebody breaking in their shed and stealing their lawnmower, breaking in their house and stealing their big screen TV that they worked hard to get."
When these tips come in, Wright is one of many officers who goes to investigate
"I'm going by a spot now, actually, that just came on the radar here recently,” Wright said.
So what kind of activities should residents be aware of?
"Car pulling up to a house. One occupant staying in the car. Passenger running in the house, or the driver running in the house. There for anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes,” Wright said. "If you see something that's not normal like that, you start seeing foot traffic or car traffic."
With more busts, come more posts. With more posts, come more busts.
"The more people see it - sees that it's working, that it's helping, it just kind of snowballs,” Lane said.
The Facebook page has gained some notoriety.
"When we kick a door in, that's some of the first things some of these guys are saying. 'Don't put my face on Facebook’,” Lane said.
Some of that notoriety comes from an occasional sarcastic caption. Wright says they do it for a reason.
"If this person saw it 'Oh I saw it, that was kind of funny,' he's going to share it. Then another person sees it, and another person sees it, and it just helps get the message out that East Liverpool's not going to sit back and just let you take over the town,” Wright said.
While it seems effective, to some, it's offensive.
Hannah Easterday's father ended up on the page.
She was visiting him for Christmas when he was busted for allegedly making methamphetamine. She wasn't aware of the alleged activity, and wasn't charged, but she also got put on the page.
"Instead of tearing down that person, maybe they should help him,” Easterday said. “Help him think positive and get off of drugs."
The right or wrong way to run the page is a debate left to the court of public opinion.
Lane said one thing is for certain.
"It's working. How can you fight with the results?" Lane said.
The program has been in place for roughly a year now. The amount of tips they're getting is decreasing, but Lane said that's because the dealers they are used to seeing are now setting up shop outside of the city.
The phone number for the tip line is 330-385-1234.