Police often ask for the public's help in solving cases. But the city of Chicago is asking citizens for tips on how to get illegal guns off the streets and they're using twitter to take the public's advice
Plenty of government agencies use social media but using it to solicit for advice on a major issue like, getting illegal guns off the streets, is unheard of. Austin police say it shows just how big the problem is.
Austin Police Detective TJ Vineyard understands why Chicago is using Twitter and asking for help.
"Certainly I think they've reached the point where they are overwhelmed and their resources are overwhelmed," said Vineyard. "When you have as many homicides as Chicago has, I'm not sure you can even deal with those on the level they should be dealt with so it's hard to find the resources and the time to deal with prevention methods, like reducing the flow of illegal guns."
Chicago just surpassed its 400th homicide last month. In comparison, Austin has had 24 homicides so far this year.
Austin police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives recognize black market guns are a huge problem that is not going away.
"As the pressure along the border for gun trafficking increases, the people looking for guns will come north, head up I-35, we straddle it. San Antonio, Dallas so the market opens up for those people," said Austin ATF Resident Agent Michael Reyes.
Detective Vineyard is with APD's Firearms Unit, a unit that recently expanded because of the overload of gun crimes. He says using media and social media is important to solving crimes. But he says there's a fine line.
"I'm concerned even on the limited scale we use it that we have to be careful that we only ask for the public's help only when we really need it, that we don't abuse that and constantly have things on the news," said Vineyard. "When you make a general appeal for help, you're going to get a lot of people who are going to provide input and a lot of people who are in fear or as overwhelmed as police are and if they don't get any feedback from police or anything done with their input, then I think they are that much more distant from the police department, that you have to be prepared to act on what information you get."
Vineyard works typical cases like one in which Chris O'Neil and Vincent Peterson stole a trailer of guns in south Austin last year and tried to sell them. They were convicted of unlawful transport of a firearm and receiving unlawful weapons and sentenced to 172 months in federal prison.
Vineyard says APD is similar to Chicago in one respect. They don't have enough resources to be proactive on keeping illegal guns off the streets.
"We're back in the circle that's what Chicago is saying we need better ways of cutting off the flow of guns ‘does anybody have any ideas?'" said Vineyard.
Some of the suggestions Chicago has been getting on twitter include allowing Illinois residents to lawfully carry a weapon to concentrating on fixing the broken school system.