Nacho cheese and not your truck.
That’s the gist of a recent Manitoba RCMP social media post that led to the identification of a suspect — and alleged Doritos aficionado — after a pickup truck was stolen Jan. 11 in Gladstone.
"Know anyone with a large skull tattoo who also loves Nacho Cheese Doritos?" reads the post, accompanied by surveillance footage of the suspect.
One of the pictures shows a woman walking into a business; on her upper chest, a large skull tattoo is visible. Additional photos show her with a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos chips.
"If you do, call us because this suspect may have stolen a truck in Gladstone on January 11. Need to speak to her about the truck thing & why she chose Nacho Cheese over Cool Ranch!" the post continued.
Within hours, police received more than 40 tips identifying the suspect.
It’s just one example of how in recent years the Mounties have deployed social media, and a little humour along the way, to crack cases and lessen the burden on front-line officers.
"The days of wanted posters on telephone poles are long gone. In some sense, social media is now almost akin to that," said Robert Cyrenne, Manitoba RCMP director of communications and media relations.
"When you see these cases and how quickly we can help front-line officers, it’s both surprising and rewarding. Traditionally, we’re meant to communicate with the public, and we can still do that. We can communicate with the public and help front-line operations."
In 2019, the Mounties began tracking how many cases they were able to close as a result of police social media use. In total, 31 people turned themselves in, or were identified and arrested, after appearing in an RCMP post.
On Wednesday, Manitoba RCMP published a post about a man accused of assaulting a young child. Less than two hours later — and 10 minutes before he spoke to the Free Press — Cyrenne said the man walked into the Thompson detachment and turned himself in.
Another #WantedWed success! Within an hour of this being published, Mervin Tait walked into the Thompson RCMP Detachment and turned himself in. Thank you for your assistance. #rcmpmb pic.twitter.com/udShLrOdNY— RCMP Manitoba (@rcmpmb) February 5, 2020
"When we first started with this approach, we weren’t tracking it, but we did start seeing missing people being found, people turning themselves in quickly after social media posts. But those were just anecdotal stories. We didn’t have a metric to show social media is a valuable tool to assist in investigations," Cyrenne said.
"In 2019, we decided to track... the cases where we don’t issue a news release, and we can actually track the outcome back to our social media feed... In June and July, we posted six people and all of them either turned themselves in or we received a tip leading to their arrest."
In addition, the Mounties have begun studying how the tone of a post can help, or hinder, the number of views.
For a post that deploys more traditional police language, Cyrenne said the RCMP generally reaches 30,000 to 50,000 people across their platforms. But when they throw some humour into the mix, the message can reach more than 500,000.
"The tone is always so important to us. The No. 1 philosophy is we never want to embarrass someone or make them feel uncomfortable. The focus isn’t on the person. We also don’t want to make light of the situation or the person in any way. We don’t know the background, we don’t know what led to this, and it’s an alleged crime at this point," Cyrenne said.
Roughly four years ago, Manitoba RCMP decided to change its approach. Since then, they’ve hired a social media expert to join the communications team and expanded their reach from roughly 10,000 followers to more than 220,000.
“Officers need to do investigative work; that will never not be the case. But what we’re studying is: ‘What’s the role of social media in a modern police force?’” – Robert Cyrenne, Manitoba RCMP director of communications and media relations.
The impact is exemplified, Cyrenne said, by a 2017 missing persons case.
A 37-year-old woman went missing Dec. 12, 2017, leading officers to search addresses in Thompson, Flin Flon, The Pas, York Landing and Winnipeg, among other communities. Despite those efforts, she wasn’t found.
On Dec. 28, the RCMP communications team got involved, issuing a post on social media. Within four hours, the woman was safely located.
Cyrenne said the Mounties will continue to experiment, as they try to figure out how social media can be best be used to help front-line officers.
"Officers need to do investigative work; that will never not be the case. But what we’re studying is: ‘What’s the role of social media in a modern police force?’ Because, yes, it’s about sharing the work our officers do, for sure, and engaging with the community," he said.
"But... we definitely also view it as a valuable tool to assist investigations. And that levity and those jokes, those memes, that’s all to grow our audience."
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Wednesday, February 5, 2020 at 7:04 PM CST: Fixes headline