Supper with the Sheriff: Social media monitoring fights crime

BRADENTON -- A lot of ground was covered at Tuesday's "Supper with the Sheriff."

Topics included heroin and gang issues in Manatee County and using social media to fight crime. Two new crime-prevention programs were also presented to about 250 people inside Police Athletic League, 202 12th Ave. E., Bradenton.

Amber Warnock, analytical and strategic planning manager for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, gave details on Geofeedia, a technology that allows companies to monitor social media by location. The sheriff's office purchased the program about six months ago.

Warnock spoke about how far technology reaches in daily lives and how young people in particular are heavy users of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

"They're putting things out there -- their entire world -- and they're exposing it in what we call open-source ways and that means that it's not under lock and key," she said. "You would be surprised at what people put out there, just open for anybody to see and comment on and it is a resource that we at the sheriff's office are trying to capitalize on."

Photos of young men from neighboring areas throwing up gang signs and holding guns were displayed on a large screen above Warnock's head, which she used as examples of social media posts.

"What this product does is it allows us to throw this 'Net -- this wide search -- and be able to pick up anything out there that's open source rather than us going to the Internet and trying to scour the Internet," Warnock said. The program scans up to seven different social media sites in one search and is proactive, she said.

"We understand in this society things can happen at the schools, so we have fences around with alerts running for keywords about fighting or violent crime or activity and anytime that is mentioned at a school or within a buffer around that school, it will automatically email us -- and it's running 24/7," he said.

Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said the Geofeedia program really helps monitor crime in the community.

Onstage, a slim, gray-colored kiosk was divided into three panels. Crime prevention Lt. Kathryn Estabrook described it as the agency's wonderful, new crime-prevention tool.

"Part of what we rely on you for is to be the eyes and ears of our community," Estabrook said.

The top panel has information on missing people, unsolved homicides and alerts. The middle panel is dedicated toward public service announcements and crime prevention information. The bottom panel focuses on absconded sex offenders and people with warrants.

The sheriff's office purchased 12 kiosks at about $2,700 each and will place them in high-traffic areas such as convenience stores and gas stations. The first was installed at the sheriff's office telephone reporting unit.

Other topics:

Steube said the county has been "inundated" with deaths associated with heroin. Before the event, Steube and Manatee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow filmed a new public service announcement on the issue.

With summer around the corner, Steube stressed water safety and encouraged anyone who needs it to enroll in swimming lessons.

Steube said the budget he prepared will go before the Manatee County Commission requesting more money for sheriff's office employees. During economic downturn of the late 2000s and early 2010s, employees did not get a raise for five years in a row. But they have received pay increases in each of the past three years.

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.