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Local agencies track criminals on the Web

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun

Technology today allows people to shop for groceries online, make bank transactions from home or even find a perfect mate. Local law enforcement agencies are hopping aboard the technology train and using the Internet to glean information and fight crime.

The Web is an excellent tool to report crimes, track sexual predators and update local data, said Placer County sheriff’s captain Jeff Granum.

Both Nevada and Placer sheriff’s departments use the Internet extensively, including intra-agency communication, public information, search engines like Google, legal codes and Department of Motor Vehicles records.

“We rely on it quite a bit, it’s an extremely valuable tool,” said Nevada County sheriff’s Sgt. Joe Salivar. “It’s made our job a whole lot easier and more efficient.”

Social networking Web sites continue to increase in popularity and can be a useful medium for investigators to track suspects. Placer sheriff’s deputy Russ Potts, school resource officer for North Tahoe Middle and High School, will look at students’ MySpace.com pages as needed but does not use it as a means to snoop for personal information.

Nevada County sheriff’s department also uses the site as a resource, which has even led to an arrest. In December, MySpace.com helped investigators track and arrest a man accused of shooting two people in Clearlake.

“We do use MySpace.com on occasion … just to track people, or link people” said Salivar.

But the department doesn’t set up decoy pages to lure predators ” yet.

They don’t have the time or resources to spend designing sites targeted at sex offenders, but will do so if a case calls for such tactics.

More than investigations, local law enforcement agencies say they use the Internet daily for basic research, communication and as a resource for the public. The Placer County sheriff’s department Web site provides online report forms, information about who is in custody and where they are located, and a link to the Megan’s Law Web site displaying photographs and addresses of local sex offenders.

And while the Internet is a useful tool to fight crime, it is also a means to commit crime. High tech criminals use sites like eBay for identity theft and fraud. Truckee Police detective Bill Mardison said criminals will send phony e-mails that look similar to PayPal or bank account requests to update financial information.

“In most cases those are hackers that make a Web site that looks like Bank of America or Wells Fargo … and they steal your account info,” said Mardison.

County sheriff’s and police admit they depend on the Internet more now than even two years ago. In an age of the information superhighway, local law enforcement agencies say they are trying to keep up with the fast guys.

“We’re just searching for info, that’s what a lot of police work is,” said Placer sheriff’s Lt. John Savage.


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