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Why police fear Facebook could hamper crime probes

QUEENSLAND police say they are becoming increasingly concerned about people using Facebook to report crimes - including those threatening children - rather than going to police directly.

The officer in charge of a Child Protection and Investigation Unit (CPIU) said police investigations could be delayed or hampered by the posting of information on Facebook.

Detective Sergeant Kearin Corcoran said posting a Facebook status but not informing police is a worrying trend that must stop.

"In the six years I have been working in Tablelands CPIU, I have seen a number of Facebook messages concerning matters that should have been reported to police," Detective Sergeant Corcoran said.

"It recently happened in two separate incidents. With one of these incidents it was alleged a man approached a young child to try to get them into a vehicle.

"People post these issues online in good faith, but posting these issues on personal social media accounts is not an appropriate way to notify police. The longer someone takes to notify police of an incident, the longer it takes us to start properly investigating.

"Clearly, on face value, such a post is very alarming and a fear any parent can relate to. The genuine intentions of those who 'share' the information on their respective personal social media accounts cannot be disputed.

"However, if the initial post is not accurate, such a post can cause unnecessary alarm and anxiety.

"When it concerns suspicious people or any kind of intelligence, it's beneficial to police to formally report the incident.

"If we're getting second-hand information, more often than not, it's not accurate. This then causes additional police inquiries to verify the information instead of focussing on accurate information and responding in a timely manner.

"The timeliness and accuracy of information cannot be underestimated as these have the ability to delay and sometimes prevent police from taking enforcement action. Especially, if police are acting on third-hand information."

Detective Sergeant Corcoran said if the crime is currently happening, is life threatening or there is a likelihood the suspected offenders are in the area to dial Triple Zero (000). He said if the incident is not an emergency to contact Policelink on 131 444 to report non-urgent crime or incidents.

Detective Sergeant Corcoran said another issue this can cause is the inappropriate identification of any person who may have been involved or who may have been witness to the incident.

"The appropriate course of action is that the person who is witness to the event or their parent, if the witness is a child, should notify police in a timely manner so the incident can be investigated and genuineness established."

Police themselves use Facebook to get key messages out. But they say it is not the way to contact them.

"When incidents are confirmed then we can use various strategies, such as Amber Alerts for child abduction or high risk missing children investigations.

"These strategies ensure we get accurate information out to the community in a timely manner to assist with facilitating the search and the safe recovery of an abducted child or high risk missing child."

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