City police turned to social media and got some help identifying an armed robbery suspect — the little bird from Twitter told them.
Tips flowed in to the Brandon Police Service after it tweeted a link to an image of a suspect captured from video surveillance footage from the robbed store.
"The tweet was retweeted numerous times and local people in town here recognized, or believe they recognized, who the person was and called that information in to us," BPS Sgt. Dallas Lockhart said on Friday.
It’s alleged that on early Tuesday morning, a suspect entered the 7-Eleven store on 10th Street and brandished a pistol.
The robber fled with a small amount of cash, but the employees weren’t hurt.
Later that morning, police issued a description of the suspect, and by mid-afternoon they tweeted a link to a webpage with the photo captured from the surveillance footage.
The photo — in which a suspect is seen wearing a Scream-style mask while pointing what appeared to be a semi-automatic pistol — was tweeted by local media and police received a number of tips by evening.
The force also posted the image on Facebook, a post that received 59 shares.
The Brandon Sun’s tweet of the photograph received 49 retweets and 25 favourites. That’s a high-performing tweet for the paper.
The Sun also posted the photo to Facebook which received 37 likes, 17 comments, 254 shares and 27,792 views (a very high-performing post).
The pic’s exposure and resulting tips allowed officers to identify a suspect, secure a warrant and they arrested a 17-year-old boy at his city home on Wednesday evening.
Lockhart said that police recovered a realistic replica handgun believed to have been used in the robbery.
While not a real gun, Lockhart pointed out that store staff didn’t know that at the time — a realistic replica would be just as frightening as the real thing.
Nor did police know the gun wasn’t real until they had the replica in-hand following the search.
"When I looked at the video, and I watched it repeatedly, I couldn’t tell whether it was real or not," Lockhart said. "I’m a guy who grew up with guns, and handles one on a daily basis."
It is rare, if not the first time, for the BPS to tweet or a link to, or post online, a surveillance image so quickly for such a serious, high-profile crime.
While the force won’t tweet or post such images online too often, in case the public grows indifferent to such pictures, it is something it plans to do in the future.
Which images get distributed online will depend on such factors as quality and legal concerns, weighed against public safety.
In this case, Lockhart said, it was the fact there was an unidentified person on the loose with what appeared to be a gun that prompted the use of social media.
The arrested youth was released on conditions to appear in court on June 24. He’s charged with robbery while armed with a weapon (or imitation), and one count of wearing a disguise.
» Twitter: @IanHitchen