Tacoma Police: Think twice before sharing video surveillance of crimes

TACOMA, Wash. – We’re living in the age of video surveillance. Unfortunately, we see it most often when one of us has been violated by crooks.

Crimes like package thefts, car prowls, even hit-and-run crashes may never have been solved had it not been for the watchful eye of security cameras.

But one Puget Sound police department is warning people to think twice before sharing evidence on social media; otherwise the investigation could be over before it begins.

“He's just kind of nonchalantly walking along and watching cars go by,” said East Tacoma’s Ed and Donna while reviewing security video on their laptop.

The couple’s surveillance cameras caught a burglar stealing from their Pierce County home last year. But thanks to tips to Washington’s Most Wanted, viewers helped police bust the suspect who was thrown behind bars.

However, sometimes victims of crimes share their surveillance video on social media before calling police.

Tacoma Police said it’s a strategy that can sometimes backfire.

“Once you do that, you basically tie our hands when we are able to catch the guy because we have nothing to use against him in court,” said Tacoma police officer Loretta Cool.

Cool said defense attorneys have been able to derail cases because video of the crime was first made public online.

“They’re actually putting a lot of barriers in the way of all the police agencies,” said Cool.

Cool also said when evidence is posted on social media, it could taint the department’s ability to identify unbiased witnesses.

“A defense attorney will say, ‘Yes he was identified on Facebook. Of course, my client is recognizable and, no, he was nowhere in the area.'" said Cool. “And that stands up in court, we now have lost the case.”

But the Pierce County prosecutor said defense attorneys don’t always get away with that argument.

“We are increasingly (seeing) cases where citizens will release home video onto Facebook, or YouTube, or somewhere else, and potentially defense attorneys can make an argument out of that, but dealing with defense attorneys' argument is just part of our job,” said Lindquist. “In my experience as a prosecutor, if a case is strong, it remains strong.”

A man in Snohomish County was recently sentenced to 8 months in jail after pleading guilty to a hit-and-run crash that paralyzed Scotty Becktell.

“Not as much as I would like, but it should be more than enough to teach him a good lesson,” Becktell said at sentencing.

The key to Becktell's case -- surveillance video, brought in the tip that helped him find justice. The difference was investigators released the video clip after exhausting other leads.

Bottom line, if you want to share evidence online, police suggest you first check with the detective working your case. And understand investigations can take time, and victims should leave the police work to police.

“If they let us work the cases for a little bit, they’ll probably get the satisfaction they want,” said Cool.