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Monday, September 22, 2014, 5:26 a.m.
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Crime fighting, tips go high tech in Baxter County

By Kenneth Heard

This article was published August 4, 2014 at 3:11 a.m.

The Baxter County sheriff's office has added a feature to its website enabling people to upload photographs, videos and audio files as a means to help fight crime and incorporate social media into its investigative work, Sheriff John Montgomery said.

Since its inception about two weeks ago, the sheriff's office has received several tips through the new feature, including a video file of suspected drug activity at a Mountain Home house and photographs of a convicted felon holding a rifle -- which is a potential probation violation. Photographs of a woman suspected of stealing numerous local newspapers from coin-operated machines were uploaded after Montgomery posted information about the theft on his Facebook page.

"We're utilizing the growing trend in social media and the Internet," Montgomery said. "This way, the public can help us keep the county safe. They can keep their eyes and ears out looking for things."

Montgomery launched the office's website Nov. 1, 2007, after working with Brooks Jeffrey Marketing Inc., a Mountain Home multimedia marketing and website design firm. As of last week, 1.16 million people had visited the site in 2014, the sheriff said. Baxter County's population is 41,000.

The site also logs at least 33,000 "new" visitors each month. New visitors, Montgomery said, are those who have not been to the website for at least a month.

"That's 33,000 people helping us out each month," he said.

Renee Adams, one of the developers of the website, said law enforcement agencies across the country have contacted Brooks Jeffery Marketing to develop similar websites. At least 30 sheriff's offices in Arkansas have sites developed by the Mountain Home company, and agencies in Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Missouri also feature sites built by the firm.

"It's amazing," Adams said of the popularity of the Baxter County site. "It feels good to be part of this."

Law enforcement agencies across the country are turning to social media to help battle crime, said Lauri Stevens, the founder of Laws Communications, a Boston-based consulting company that assists law professionals with interactive media technologies.

"Law enforcement is figuring out that it's more efficient to use social media in fighting crime," Stevens said. "Every department is seeing cutbacks in ranks. I think this points to the true power of social media.

"This is true community policing," she said. "This is happening all over the world. I'm glad Arkansas is aggressive."

Montgomery said website visitors first went to the sheriff's office website to check its prison inmate rosters. The most active time on the site was at 8 a.m., causing Montgomery to speculate that people immediately checked the website upon going to work.

The site also includes a list of sex offenders and their addresses, news releases about investigations, lists of child support offenders, a history of the office, cold case information, and employment opportunities.

The site helped Montgomery earn America's Most Wanted All-Star designation in 2010 -- an award given annually to law enforcement officials by a television program about capturing criminals.

"We keep updating the site, so it changes in real time," Montgomery said. "All of the information is integrated into our software systems. It's automated. We don't have to pay anyone to update our website. It encourages people to come back and get new data each time."

In June, U.S. marshals arrested a 52-year-old Mountain Home man in a Mesquite, Texas, hotel after receiving tips generated from Montgomery's website.

Authorities wanted the man on theft charges in several counties, and he was placed on the Baxter County Sheriff's Most Wanted section of the website and on Montgomery's Facebook page.

Within three days, the suspect's photograph and information was shared 201 times on Facebook, leading to the man's arrest.

Montgomery said another man called his office recently and said he saw his picture on the sheriff's warrants page. The man, who lives in Washington state, was wanted for writing hot checks more than five years ago. He offered to send payment for the checks, Montgomery said.

Last week, Montgomery received video and 12 photographs of cars and people who frequented a house that the sender suspected is where people go to purchase drugs.

"We're following up on that," the sheriff said.

Stevens equated the advances in law enforcement websites to the addition of surveillance cameras about 20 years ago.

"You can't hide anymore," she said. "We're seeing cold cases picking up again and more arrests. Lots of agencies are getting on board.

"I think we're just seeing the beginning of it," she said.

State Desk on 08/04/2014

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