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In search of clues, police departments turn to social media for faster results

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- A family continues to search for clues and answers about their son who never came home. Eight years ago, college student Jesse Ross left Kansas City for a mock United Nations event in Chicago.

That was the last time his family saw him. They aren't sure if there was an accident or a crime, or if he just wanted to get away.

Ross’ family is using his 28th birthday this week to bring attention back to the case. In that case and many others, law enforcement agencies give TV stations information to pass on to viewers, and it's helped solve countless crimes over decades.

But now, more and more police and sheriff departments are using a different kind of media, social media. Police departments in the metro are using Facebook and Twitter to cast a wide net and get information immediately to the public.

Whether it is about a suspect they are looking for or a missing person, social media allows them to communicate directly with the public, who are inclined to help.

"We have received various tips on things that have led us in a direction that gets us where we want to go. Not particularly the tip that solves the crime for the day, but it does give us more information that leads us in a new direction that's helpful,” Overland Park Police Officer Jackie Zickel.

It also cuts down on the time lag where police stations type up a media release, send it to the media outlets and wait for the next newscast to get the information out there.

Police are not throwing out the old way of doing business, but they say this is another great tool to communicate directly with the public.

Law enforcement agencies don't just use social media to communicate with the public; they also use it to communicate with each other. Following neighboring departments, Overland Park can tweet out Olathe's alerts and widen the net that much more.