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Crimewatch: Victims use social media to solve crimes

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Police say they are seeing more victims trying to solve their own crimes by using technology and social media.

Authorities say taking pictures with smartphones is fine as long as no one is in danger.  However, they say its a bad idea to use social media to look up suspects.

Belting out tunes is something Natalie Smith does everyday.  The UT senior is practicing for her upcoming recital.

However, her focus went off key in late April when she became a victim of crime for the first time.

"I just kind of stood there, like, didn't I have stuff here?  And then it just kind of hit me, oh my goodness, I did have stuff here!  It's gone!  It was horrible," Smiths said.

While Natalie was in rehearsals, someone went backstage and stole her saxophone, purse, and iPad. 

After the initial shock, the UT senior went to work.  She tracked down her iPad using GPS.

"I looked it up and it was there, a little green dot on South Lamar." 

She called University of Texas Police.  Officers followed the green dot.

"Within 15 minutes of her initial phone call, we had two suspects in custody and we had recovered all her property," Darrell Halstead.

UTPD says technology, like GPS apps, has helped them recover stolen property more than ever before.

Technology has also helped Austin Police solve crimes.

In 2011, a driver in South Austin near First Street took a picture of this white truck after it nearly cut him off while leaving a parking lot.  The driver later discovered while watching the news, that there was a bank robbery off South Congress at the same time he encountered the white truck.

"He calls the robbery unit and it ends up he got the license plate number and a photograph of our bank robber," Lt. Mike Eveleth said.

Leroy Jones, 52, was charged and convicted.  Police say they would have never gotten their bank robber if it wasn't for the citizen taking this picture.

"We didn't have any other information at that point because his get a way car was parked on the other side of the building and no one saw the car so we were just lucky that he happened to snap a photograph and got the license plate," Eveleth said.

Another case had a robbery and assault victim use Facebook to help catch her attackers.  Police say Sarah Stokes and Miken Guerrero have both been charged.

The incident started as road rage on 7th street near I-35.  On February 19th, the two 25 year old victims were trying to get over to the far right hand lane of 7th street to go southbound on I-35.

The suspects wouldn't let them over and made an obscene hand gesture.  One of the victims gave the gesture back. 

Police say Stokes, Guerrero and a third female followed the victims until they got to an apartment complex off St Edward's in South Austin.

In the parking lot, the suspects opened the car doors and started punching the victims' in the face and head.

Police say Stokes took the keys out of the ignition and Gurerrero took a cell phone.           

Two men eventually came to the rescue.  One victim remembered the car and part of the license plate number.  That information was used to whittle down female owners of that kind of car.

Facebook was also used to find the suspects.  All this may sound like good detective work but police say it isn't.  In fact, it may very well ruin a case.

"If a detective finds out, you've been looking at Facebook pages of registered owners of vehicles, we may not even be able to show that line up because Its a tainted line up at that point.  It's like I said, are you picking out the robber or are you picking out the person you saw on Facebook."

A tainted line up may mean the District Attorney's office won't prosecute the case.  Lt. Eveleth says detectives, at least at APD, have thousands of hours of training and know the Texas law, the code of criminal procedures.  That's why he says its best to leave the detective work to well, detectives.

However, Eveleth encourages taking pictures in non violent crimes, as long as no one is put in danger.

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