BOUNTIFUL, Utah (ABC4) – How much time do you spend on your phone looking at social media each day? It’s probably more than you want to admit, but what if you could use your social media to help fight crime? Well, the Bountiful Police Department is proof that social media is helping create citizen sleuths.
Even when sitting behind a screen, Corporal Jon Joubert puts himself out there online for all of Bountiful to see. “I was raising my hand, like: ‘Oh, oh, oh, I want to do it,’” Corporal Joubert told ABC4 as he explained how he became one of the department’s social media team members. “So, I was really excited about the possibilities,” he adds.
More than 10 years ago, Joubert already donned the Bountiful Police Department badge when he picked up a new hat as well, leading the police department’s social media blitz.
“We really wanted to be able to engage the community through social media,” Assistant Police Chief Dave Edwards explained. “(We wanted to) be able to get feedback from the community, have the community get to know us, and be able to establish a relationship we might not be able to have otherwise.”
As social media evolved, so did Corporal Joubert’s tactics.
“It’s funny because I look back at the proposal that I wrote saying we need to have a very professional voice, and everything has to be proofread. We have to be very professional,” he stated. However, the community wasn’t engaging like the department hoped. “And slowly we sprinkled in humorous posts and found that our followers jumped each time, so it was like a lightbulb. Like, ‘Oh, if we are entertaining, more people want to come to our page. The more people follow us, the more eyeballs we can get on this.’”
Part of being entertaining means Corporal Joubert pokes fun at himself and the department for all Bountiful residents to see. However, he also takes the department’s followers on virtual ride-alongs. He can access platforms like Facebook while in his patrol vehicle (he doesn’t use it while the vehicle is in motion). This means he can go live on the scene to give residents real-time and up-to-date information.
This ability to connect with the community on a personal level, his higher-ups told ABC4, makes him the perfect person to be behind the badge and the screen.
“A lot of people I’ve never met before (tell me), ‘Tell Joubert I said hi.’ (I ask), ‘How do you know him?’ ‘Social media. You know, he’s your social media guy. I see him on Facebook,’” Assistant Chief Dave Edwards says. “They’ve never met him personally, but they know him.”
Building those virtual friendships with the community is part of the reason the department uses social media. However, it has another purpose as well.
“Slowly, we moved from linking (posts) to our website of wanted people to just putting them on social media and we got a much bigger response,” says Joubert.
That’s right — pictures and surveillance videos are often posted on social media while asking the public to help identify suspects. This is something seasoned officers never thought would be possible.
“It was one at a time,” Assistant Chief Edwards told ABC4 when talking about how police looked for suspects prior to social media. “Sending out snail mail to people to engage. This is incredible that we have that instant feedback and instant connection to the city. To be able to put out information and within minutes, have tips coming in on crimes — incredible.”
Joubert says the social media team posts about different types of crime, “and it’s the smaller cases that get people’s attention, sometimes in a negative way because they say, ‘Oh, is this all you have going on in Bountiful?’ But what’s interesting is there’s always a backstory to these. This person we suspected of stealing from five or six different cars, but we only had surveillance of the garden shovel. So, kind of an interesting story on the chasm between aggravated robbery and garden tool.”
Before the department takes to the internet asking citizen sleuths for help, a case must meet certain criteria.
“We have surveillance or information, of what the suspect or vehicle looks like and all we need is a name because that’s what’s holding us up,” Joubert explained.
He added that about half of online tips are useful, and often the suspect is recognized by “family members and scorned exes,” Joubert said with a smile.
Nonetheless, there is a downside to social media. Joubert said there is often public shaming. This is something the department tries to avoid. He told ABC4 if there is a case he believes will result in negative online behavior, he tells his superiors, “The risk of posting this and defaming this person is greater than uncovering a crime because our witness is not 100 percent sure what they saw. And so, in a case like that, we don’t post.”
Corporal Joubert says he estimates more than 100 cases have been solved thanks to social media over the years. While not all are successful, there is one case that sticks out in his memory.
“(We) posted the suspect’s picture. Within a half-hour, we had a family member identify them and within another hour of that, we had him in handcuffs going to the jail.”
Corporal Joubert also wanted to emphasize that along with social media, the department’s relationship with local news organizations is crucial in solving cases. He said just this last week, the social media team posted about a suspect on social media which was then shared by ABC4 on-air. He said the next morning, new tips came in that helped solve the case. He said those tips came in from viewers.
Who knows? Maybe your time on social media is actually for the greater good.