In an age when employers research new hires on Facebook, people tend to be choosy about which photos they post to the social media site. But for some Shelby County residents, what are likely their most embarrassing photos — mugshots — are posted for all to see.
For the past few months, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office has been using its Facebook page to catch residents with outstanding warrants for everything from drug possession and prostitution to rape and murder.
Several times each week, mugshots of people wanted for warrants in certain zip codes are posted on the fan page. For example, on Monday morning, 10 photos for warrants in 38119 (East Memphis) and 16 photos for warrants in 38115 (Hickory Hill) were posted.
Those included a posting for first-degree murder suspect Montrel Davis and domestic assault suspect Eric Jones. Some of the photos evoke humorous comments from the page's Facebook fans. Domestic assault suspect Gregory White is shown with Band-Aids on his cheek and chin. One commenter suggested his domestic assault charge was the result of beating himself up, and another questioned whether bath salts might have been the culprit for White's facial wounds.
Although some people make fun of the warrant photos, Shelby County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Chip Washington said the page has been successful in helping the department catch criminals.
"I can't give you numbers, but has it helped? Yes. Facebook has definitely helped us catch criminals," Washington said. "There are hundreds of warrants that come in every day, and you never catch up on them, but our guys do a really good job."
To date, the sheriff's office has more than 26,000 active arrest warrants, more than 5,000 of which are for felony warrants. Before the Facebook page, mugshots were only searchable on the agency's website. Washington said the idea for posting warrants on their Facebook page came about after one of the page's 10,000-plus fans left a comment inquiring about whether someone they knew had a warrant.
"The thought from our Facebook guy was, why don't we start posting some folks who are wanted for various crimes? Once one person starts inquiring on your page about warrants in certain zip codes, everyone else would want to know about warrants in their zip code" Washington said.
When people have tips on how to find the posted suspects, Washington said they should call the fugitive unit or send the department a confidential email rather than posting the information in a Facebook comment.
"A public comment puts yourself out there," Washington said.
Additionally, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office has recently begun using another website — IDThisPerson.com — to gather the community's input on suspected criminals who have been caught on business' security tapes. The national crime-fighting website features security screenshots submitted by law enforcement, and the public is invited to anonymously enter the name, whereabouts, and other information about the suspect. If the information leads to an arrest, the person who submitted the information receives a $25 gift card for a participating business of his or her choice.
"We live in this age where social media is the way," Washington said. "People communicate probably more through social media than through any other form of communication these days. You can get your message out quicker, and more people can respond to it."