Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa police patrol the cyberstreets with their own MySpace pages

School resource Officer Donna Showalter is on MySpace.

School resource Officer Donna Showalter is on MySpace.

TAMPA — A frightened student at Liberty Middle School told resource Officer Donna Showalter another girl had posted a threat against her on MySpace.com, a social networking site popular with teens and young adults.

In the past, Showalter would have had to ask the girl to print out the comments and bring them in. But that day she just loaded up her own MySpace account, set up by the Tampa Police Department, and found the threat herself.

"I printed the comment out before she could take it down and brought her in, and she couldn't deny that she was caught," Showalter said.

The girls talked out their differences and Showalter defused a potentially violent situation.

That's the goal for the Tampa Police Department, which took the innovative step in summer 2008 to create MySpace pages for itself and each of its 25 school resource officers, said Cpl. Scott Buchanan, senior school resource officer supervisor.

"The goal is prevention," he said. "To get to things before they happen."

Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said the push to have an Internet presence came after she heard a news story about how a MySpace page helped solve the murder of Chicago dermatologist David Cornbleet.

The victim's children created a MySpace page that included surveillance video of a suspect and details of the October 2006 murder. Six months later, said the Chicago Sun-Times, a Marine in New York responded, saying he knew the killer.

McElroy and the Public Information Office created the Police Department's main MySpace page, where public information officers post robbery surveillance videos and entries about cold case homicides and other unsolved crimes. McElroy said the page connects the police to people ages 14 to 25 who don't watch the TV news or read the newspaper.

So far, the TPD's MySpace page has over 300 Internet "friends,'' and over 6,000 page views.

"It's all about information sharing," she said. "We're riding the technology wave."

Taking this a step further, school resource officers like Showalter have made their own pages. Buchanan says school pages, around since October, haven't generated breaks in any major cases but he said he has hope that it will pay off in the future.

"It's a good investigative tool, it's just a matter of getting it out there," he said.

Informing students about the MySpace page is the responsibility of school resource officers.

Showalter said she turned to students for help designing Liberty Middle's TPD page because she just didn't understand the technology. "But it's not a bad thing because you get to meet students who aren't in trouble and build relationships with them," she said.

As the Web page loads, the theme song to the TV show Cops rings out, Bad boys, bad boys. Whatcha gonna do?

She recently posted a legal definition and explanation of battery, because there has been a rise in roughhousing that has parents worried.

"I put that information out there so the students can understand before it becomes a problem," Showalter said.

Other schools use the page to spread the word about petty thefts.

In the blog section, the Sligh Middle School resource officer posted on March 18: "On 03/12/2009 there was a Laptop computer which was taken from one of the classrooms. If you have any information leading to the recovery of the laptop, contact Officer Matos or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477)."

Buchanan said he requires the officers to check the pages five days a week.

So far, the only other regional departments that use MySpace are the Polk, Manatee and Sarasota County sheriff's offices, but several said they are looking into it, including the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

"It's another tool in our toolbox to help solve crimes," Buchanan said.

Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or rmitchell@sptimes.com.

To view the Tampa Police MySpace page, go to MySpace.com/tampapolice

Tampa police patrol the cyberstreets with their own MySpace pages 03/22/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 23, 2009 7:37am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. For starters: Rays at Twins, looking for another with Odorizzi starting

    Blogs

    The Rays are looking to keep rolling when they make a quick turnaround after Friday's win over the Twins and are back on the field for a matinee today, 2:10 first pitch Tampa Bay time.

    RHP Jake Odorizzi will be on the mound for the Rays, coming off a good but not great start against the Angels, though buoyed …

  2. Global computer outage grounds British flights

    Airlines

    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports Saturday as a global IT failure caused severe disruption for travelers on a busy holiday weekend.

    British Airways planes are parked at Heathrow Airport in January. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, file)
  3. Road rage incident leaves uninvolved man, 52, with critical injuries in Pinellas Park

    Accidents

    PINELLAS PARK — A 52-year-old man was critically injured after an apparent road rage incident that shut down the area of a U.S. 19 overpass for nearly six hours on Friday, police said.

    Pinellas Park police say a man has critical injuries after a truck involved in a road rage incident slammed into him after he cut off another vehicle. (Pinellas Park Police Department)
  4. Britain lowers terror threat level to 'severe' as more arrested

    World

    MANCHESTER, England — Britain reduced its terrorism threat level a notch, from "critical" to "severe," as authorities said major progress has been made in unravelling the plot behind the Manchester bombing. More arrests are expected.

    An army bomb disposal team works with members of the police in the Moss Side area of Manchester, England, on Saturday. British police say they are evacuating residents around a house being searched in connection with the Manchester concert bombing. Police are searching a number of properties and have 11 suspects in custody in connection with Monday's explosion at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, which killed more than 20 people and injured dozens. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)
  5. Miami pollster Sergio Bendixen dies

    Blogs

    Sergio Bendixen, the first Hispanic to run a U.S. presidential campaign who later pioneered public-opinion polling among Latinos and other immigrant populations, died late Friday in Miami. He was 68.

    Sergio Bendixen.