Hubbard police thought they had lost their best chance to get their man when he disappeared over a hill headed east on Liberty Street after robbing a Walgreen's on July 13.
The next day he had the nerve to strike again at Rite Aid. And get away again.
But their legs, cruisers and sidearms weren't the only tool in their arsenal. Sitting in a chair at a desk is exactly what led them to suspect Jeremy Dunlap, 26, of Farrell, Pa.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Hubbard police Chief James Taafe checks the department’s Facebook page recently. He said the social media site has provided tips in at least a dozen cases.
Police Chief James Taafe said the still photos from the security camera were posted July 15 on the department's Facebook page. Tips began flowing in through that website and through Twitter. Within a day they knew who their man was. Within two, they had made an arrest.
"When something happens, we post it as soon as we can and people follow it and offer suggestions," Taafe said. "There's a lot of commentary that goes on and a lot of it is very useful. People who were in the store, who we didn't even know about, came forward and gave information through Facebook."
Taafe said Hubbard has had its Facebook page up and running since last October and it has led to tips on at least a dozen cases and had a direct role in solving two; the robberies and a vandalism case in Harding Park this past month.
In that case, damage was done to a tarp and blocks covering ballfield clay. The investigation led police to Allen W. Lunt's Facebook page, where he'd posted a picture of himself in his SUV with the front wheels parked on the tarp.
Lunt was charged with criminal damaging, according to police.
Hubbard's use of social media as a law enforcement tool is not exclusive, though, and other departments and agencies are reaping the benefits of websites like Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and YouTube.
In the case of the LSP gang arrests in Youngstown, local and federal law enforcement officials obtained significant evidence of many suspects' involvement with the gang in the form of pictures that alleged gang members posted on their personal Myspace pages, as cited in the indictments documents.
Many of them were holding money, handling drugs, boasting of drug activity or flashing gang signs or gang tattoos.
More recently, residents of Newton Falls and southwest Trumbull County kept the Newton Falls police up to speed on the whereabouts of a suspect vehicle when four people were murdered in early July.
Comments and leads eventually helped police locate Robert Brazzon at a Newton Falls cemetery, where he shot himself before police could arrest him.
Police Chief John Kuivila said the department has been using Facebook for two years to great benefit, of which the homicide case is just one example.
"We've used it quite extensively. By posting pictures or sketches or information, we've found the Facebook page to be very useful. We also post all of our warrants on there," he said.
Newton Falls set the standard for their neighbor to the south, Milton Township. Milton police Chief Michael Saltsman said the township began years ago using the Nixle alert system to communicate with the public. That system is also used by Liberty police. But in February 2010, they began using Facebook and found it more to their liking.
''I know there's four cases early on we were able to solve right away by putting their pictures on there," Saltsman said. "Sometimes all you need is that little piece of that puzzle to be able to put the whole thing together."
One case comes to Saltsman's memory. When a woman died, someone known to her surviving family, namely the executor of her estate, stole checks and forged signatures to steal a significant amount of money.
The man's mugshot was posted on Facebook and shown on the news. Someone saw the picture online and sent police a text message notifying them of the man's whereabouts. That lead corresponded with information acquired through a contact at the U.S. Marshals office. Carl Myers was found in Howland and arrested.
Howland police would not elaborate, but a source in the department who requested anonymity did say Facebook has been a useful tool, adding that the department has not solved any cases solely on a social media lead.
Sgt. Jeff Cole of the Warren Police Department declined to comment, saying the department does not discuss investigative methods.
The Trumbull County Sheriff's Office also has begun exploring social media as another means of fighting crime.
"Thus far the sheriff's office has utilized not only the news media but also the social media for videos of crimes and trying to find out the identities of suspects," said Sheriff's Maj. Harold Firster.
Firster said the sheriff's office has found that social media is not only good for extracting information but disseminating it to the public as well. He said the sheriff's office is looking at the benchmark set by the Philadelphia Police Department in using what he calls "the big three," Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
In mid-July, Philadelphia police used YouTube to put out video of an attempted kidnapping of a young girl, in the interest of warning and protecting other children. News reports from various sources say the girl managed to escape.
"What we'd like to do with the sheriff's office is create a partnership with the community. Since it's having such a profoundly positive effect on other communities and the sheriff wants to remain on the cutting edge of technology, we are looking at the social media way of doing things," Firster said.
Lt. Jason Simon of Youngstown Police Department handles the department's Facebook site as well as computer forensics responsibilities.
He said the site has been very useful in investigating the character of suspects as well as obtaining tips and conveying information to the public.
The department also investigates crimes that take place online.
In 2007, WYTV News anchor Vince Bevacqua was threatened on a Vindy.com comment board, on the Vindicator newspaper's website.
"It was not unusual to see comments about me and my colleagues, and there had been a series of fairly negative comments made about me for several months, most of which I ignored," Bevacqua said recently. "Near the end of my time at YTV, the tone of those comments became a bit more caustic, and there were references to watching out for myself upon leaving the station on my last day and that got my concern."
Simon said the department got a court order to obtain the comment board user's personal information that is stored by the site's managers. The information corresponded with other leads and led Youngstown police the home of a suspect. Computer forensics confirmed that the computer found there was the one used to log onto the website and to issue the threats.
"There was no other way to find out what was behind all this without their intervention," Bevacqua said.
Simon said many cases in the technological era can have cyber elements to them and threats are among them, not to mention theft, identity fraud, cyber attacks and hacking. At the same time, he said, Facebook and computer forensics can be used at the other end of the law enforcement spectrum.
"We can also use social media and computer forensics as tools to exonerate people who are innocent," he said.