By Adam Brazeau
CORNWALL, Ontario – A few businesses that have been victims of theft have turned to social media before or during an investigation by police, and officers are on the fence over the issue.
© Adam Brazeau
Computer Sense owner Michael Galvin turned to the police and Facebook when he was robbed of a tablet device in his Cornwall store. One day later the culprit was arrested after being identified on the social networking site.
"We don't advocate or condone such practice," said Cornwall police Cst. Daniel Cloutier. "They are within the rights… however, we encourage that if someone was to find or learn of any information in relation to criminal offences to notify us, as soon as possible."
Computer Sense owner Michael Galvin dealt with a shoplifter at his store last year. He called the police and then immediately posted video footage online of the man stealing an Android tablet, as his employee had his back turned.
Rona Home Centre – Cornwall also recently posted pictures on their social media of two alleged thieves they had on video surveillance stealing a small item. When contacted, police were unaware of the incident. But the long-reaching tentacles of Facebook were already in motion. Over 100 people shared still images from the store's video surveillance equipment.
"I posted the actual video and a zoomed up picture," said Galvin. "We got quite a bit of feedback on our social media."
The community reacted with droves of viral support. Within a day the man was identified and later arrested and charged with the help of online tools.
Galvin had several angles of the crime as it happened, but only released the one video.
"One thing we didn’t want to do was show all the camera angles from the store," he said.
Thanks to the internet, shoplifting isn't the same petty crime it used to be.
"Shoplifting isn’t faceless anymore," said Galvin. "There's no anonymous shoplifting with the ability to use cameras and then social media."
Cornwall police Sgt. Trevor Butler has seen businesses go online rather than on record and he warns, the internet holds a dual stance in results.
Whether or not businesses took the right steps in their case by not calling authorities and publishing photos of civilians who are still due a judicial process is questionable to police.
"I’ve seen it before, sometimes businesses do things on their own,” said Butler. “It’s two-fold. It helps us identify the person responsible -- same token, businesses have to be concerned what they put out.”
Galvin made sure he was absolutely certain when he posted the incident online showing the then-alleged thief in action.
"In our case, when we posted, it was so obvious," said Galvin. "If you don’t want me to vilify you on my Facebook page, don’t steal from me then."
Galvin said other businesses helped in the viral campaign and were thankful for the head's up about the unwanted customer.
"If he's robbing my store today, it could be your store tomorrow," said Galvin.
Cloutier said it's not uncommon for institutions like banks to use imagery or the internet within their own agencies for cases of theft. He noted that local businesses may not be looking for criminal charges, and instead are seeking a trespass violation or fine.
"People are within rights," said Cloutier. "We don't have a position on it."
Cloutier reminds the public that police are equipped with the resources and tools to conduct a complete investigation.