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March 1, 2013

Facebook helps round up those wanted on warrants

EBENSBURG — Use of the social media website Facebook is helping to change the way the Cambria County Sheriff’s Department is rounding up the bad guys.

An initiative developed and carried out by Deputy Sheriff Tracy Swope is helping the department locate individuals wanted on any number of warrants and often is letting deputies know what they may be walking into before the arrest.

“She’s gone above and beyond to run down people wanted on bench warrants, and the men and women who are serving these warrants are better protected,” President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder said.

Swope, of Carrolltown, has been a deputy for Cambria County Sheriff Bob Kolar for 11 years. She said she got the idea of starting a department Facebook page after realizing the vast amount of information people post about themselves, those living with them and their friends and neighbors.

“People just post so much information and it’s just out there,” Swope said.

With a daily average of 3,500 “likes,” a Facebook term used to describe visitors to the site, the sheriff’s department is letting the people know who they are seeking to serve with criminal and domestic court warrants, even outstanding sex offenders.

“There are people who want to know if someone is wanted, if we’re looking for someone, so they contact me,” Swope said.

Swope regularly lists the fugitives the department is looking for and a surprising number of responses have come in, she said.

Much of the information is generated throughout the day and she works a couple hours in the evening, after her 2-year-old son is in bed, to match things up.

Her goal is to respond to all of the inquiries and get information ready for the other deputies to use the next day.

In the month of February, Swope was able to credit seven apprehensions based on Facebook information.

“Some of them were for pretty serious crimes,” she said.

All of the information and tips passed onto her are kept anonymous, and the public is asked to respond via private message on Facebook, email or any other form, she said.

“People are sharing this stuff, they are just getting the word out,” she said. “They’ll say things like, ‘look here, you might want to look in this area for someone.’ ”

The initiative has the full support of Kolar, who likes to refer to Swope’s petite physical appearance when he speaks of the success and her dedication to the Facebook page.

“She’s short in stature, but don’t let that fool you, she is a giant when it comes to work ethics,” Kolar said.

Lengenfelder cited on example when a team of deputies were sent out with a search warrant to a mobile home. They went with information about how many people should be living in the home, but upon arrival were told only one person was around.

“They found three more people hiding under the trailer in a secret compartment,” Lengenfelder said.

“Tracy has armed our people with much more than a gun. They’ve got information,” he said.

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