Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

December 10, 2012

Tazewell Sheriff’s Office fighting crime through social media

TAZEWELL, Va. — The Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office will be logging on to Twitter in the new year as part of efforts to keep connected with the public.

Major Harold Heatley, chief deputy of the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office, said joining Twitter is the next step for the department in providing services to the community.

“What we’ve discovered over the past months is that social media is a great opportunity for us to reach out and update our citizens on crime events, hazards, power outages and storm shelters,” Heatley said. “People may not have Internet at home because their computer won’t turn on but they have tablets and smart phones. It is just a way to assist us and help our citizens in the county.”

Heatley said Twitter is a good way for law enforcement to keep up with the social media-savvy younger generation.

“It is a natural progression,” Heatley said. “I stay in contact with some of the other public affairs officers throughout the state. It seems a lot of our younger folks are utilizing Twitter more and are more likely to receive tweets than Facebook hits. We don’t want to exclude our younger generation. We want to be all-inclusive and want to include our seniors as well. They aren’t on Facebook or Twitter, but we want to extend services to them.”

When Tazewell County was blanketed with snow as a result of Superstorm Sandy, Heatley said communicating through Facebook was a valuable resource for both the sheriff’s office and county residents.

“During the snowstorm I personally sat in our dispatch center as accidents, power outages, fires and downed trees were reported,” he said. “I was able to get that out instantly to our citizens through our Facebook page. Eastern District Supervisor Charlie Stacy said he didn’t have power at his house, but he had his tablet and was able to keep abreast of the situation because of that. We could tell people where Appalachian Power was at and when they were anticipating power to be restored.”

In addition to providing important emergency information to county residents, Heatley said the public has been instrumental in using Facebook to help deputies track down criminals.

“As recently as two nights ago, Facebook helped us capture a wanted subject who had been on the run since September,” Heatley said. “They were almost able to give us minute by minute updates on where he was located it. We certainly made national news with the sex offender out of Maryland who was captured after his girlfriend liked our Facebook page. I can think of at least 10 captures we have made through Facebook. We have also received tips about people involved in narcotics and copper theft. It has been very beneficial to us. When people are sending us these tips, it is all anonymous.”

Heatley said the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office will be sending our their first tweet some time around New Year’s.

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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