When a St John Ambulance donation box was stolen from the counter of Stoke’s Pestell’s Rai Bacon Company last week, worker Rachael Stott decided to turn to social media in an attempt to ‘name and shame’ the thieves.
And it worked.
Within two hours of sending security camera footage to a popular Facebook page that shares information about crime in Nelson, known as Nelson Snippets, Rachael had the names and addresses of the culprits.
The administrator of the Nelson Snippets page says that the response was “phenomenal”, with the post being shared 2.4k times and has reached 168,708 people since Wednesday night.
It is just one example of an increasing number of Nelson businesses and individuals turning to social media to take the law into their own hands for fast, effective results.
However, Nelson Police, who were alerted to the theft the same day and have now been passed on the names revealed through the page, are advising people to exercise caution when appealing for crime information online.
Inspector Mat Arnold-Kelly, Area Commander for Nelson Bays Police, recommends that members of the public report potential offending or suspicious behaviour directly to police.
He says that social media is a powerful tool for police to share and gather information which they use frequently, but it is only one tool of many used by police when investigating and preventing crime.
“Police have a number of considerations to take into account before disseminating crime related material onto social media, such as the potential for incorrectly identifying or implicating individuals, the impact on future court cases, and the risk to people involved,” he says.
“When members of the public take it upon themselves to investigate crime via social media they may not take all of these factors into consideration, which is why the investigation of criminal offending should be left to police.”
Mat also says that they are always looking at improving how they engage with the public, which includes how crime is reported, but for now crime cannot be reported via social media in New Zealand.
But Nelson Snippets, who have 13.5k followers on their page, say their success rate in solving local crimes is “very high” and that the police have “dropped the ball.”
“Social media gets results, and it is growing up,” they told Nelson Weekly.
“If people know they are likely to end up on here and be identified, hopefully they will think twice.”
While Pestell’s say that, although they won’t get the money back, they have had some very generous customers giving them donations to replenish the box.
“One lady has given us a $20 donation to start filling the box back up, as she saw what had happened through the Nelson Snippets post,” says Rachael.
“I’m just amazed at the outreach it’s had – people seem to get more accomplished through social media, now I just hope the cops take it seriously.”
Pestell’s owner, Chris Pestell, says he is “gobsmacked” with the result.
“It’s caused quite a little buzz around the place,” he says.
“Nearly every customer has asked us – ‘have you got your box back yet?’ – Which just shows how many people the Facebook post reached. Social media is a pretty powerful thing.”