Saskatoon city police have taken the unusual step of issuing a public plea asking people to take more care when deciding whether to share unverified reports about crime on social media.
The number of Facebook posts depicting “alarming” incidents that have not been reported to police has increased over the last few months, says Staff Sgt. Grant Obst, head of the targeted enforcement section.
According to a message posted Tuesday on the police Facebook page, some of the problematic posts have directly referenced certain neighbourhoods, minority groups or industries, and few had a corresponding report to police.
Obst said if people do see something suspicious, they should at least call police.
“I’m not suggesting you can’t use social media to discuss it, but at least give the police a call so that we can examine it, take a look at it and determine what exactly was it that the witness saw,” he said.
He asked Facebook users to take a moment before sharing a post to check the police service website for media releases.
If someone is reading about something on Facebook but doesn’t see it in the media releases, that should be a red flag, especially if it’s describing something as serious as an attempted abduction, Obst added.
The police Facebook post said in some cases, all officers have to work with is the original allegation on social media, and “significant time and resources” are put toward trying to verify whether an incident took place.
The amount of time police spend investigating incidents described in social media posts varies, Obst said.
When a post comes to their attention, detectives go through reports to determine if they had any calls resembling what’s described in the post, and usually they find no police report was made, Obst said.
Over the last few weeks, posts have circulated describing abductions by people driving around in white vans, but there are no such incidents under investigation and when police have looked into the posts, they’ve found that what happened was nothing like what was described, Obst said.
Inaccurate posts cause unnecessary fear and anxiety, he added.
“If people are being scared or if we’re having concern created in the community that’s unfounded, that’s obviously an issue for us. The wasted resources, I’m going to call that a peripheral issue. That’s not the main issue.”