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OKC police dedicate officer to social media

Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow

Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow

With nearly half of all crime tips now reported to Oklahoma City police through the Internet, the department is responding by adapting its Crime Stoppers strategy to social media.

Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow, a police spokeswoman for the last six years, now will manage the department's social media presence and its Crime Stoppers program.

"It's become very necessary to do something different. We get a lot of our tips now through social media, approximately 40 percent of them," Capt. Paco Balderrama said. 

"People want to stay informed 24-7 through social media," Balderrama said.

"People want it now. People want it through their iPhone. People want it through Facebook. In an effort to keep the public safe and informed, we're trying to change with the times and adapt to that."

Feedback from the public has allowed police officers to nab unidentified suspects by releasing surveillance photos.

One woman managed to string together photos of a man wanted in burglaries in several cities — including Oklahoma City — as well as identify him for officers, Wardlow said.

Facebook helped lead to an arrest in a fatal March 2014 shooting outside a Bricktown club, she said.

Christopher C. Benson was arrested after someone close to the man identified him from a photo released via social media. Benson is accused of killing Zachary Bowie, 30, of Spencer, outside of Club Social, 119 E California Ave.

Benson is scheduled to stand trial next month on charges of first-degree murder and possession of a firearm after a felony conviction, court records show.

Since the Oklahoma City Police Department established its social media presence in 2008, its role in solving crimes slowly has expanded.

"Citizens are willing to send us a message and go back and forth with me the better part of the morning with very crucial information, but they won't call us or flag down an officer and tell us, for whatever reason," Wardlow said.

While the Crime Stoppers phone — 235-7300 — still brings in a large number of tips and remains a vital source of information, the Internet brings an unsurpassed level of immediacy to fielding tips and leads.

The police department's website also is being revamped, and Wardlow will assume management of it, as well.

Taking over Wardlow's spokeswoman role is Sgt. Ashley Peters, a nine-year veteran. Having been a patrol officer, as well as an undercover narcotics officers, Peters' last assignment was with the Family Awareness and Community Teamwork unit. 

The unit focuses on building relationships with young people and their families in areas of the city where youth are at risk for being lured into gang activity or involvement.

Related Photos
<p><span class="bold">Sgt. Ashley Peters</span></p>

Sgt. Ashley Peters

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-72c73c373a2294233ad0f9173024e5f4.jpg" alt="Photo - Sgt. Ashley Peters " title=" Sgt. Ashley Peters "><figcaption> Sgt. Ashley Peters </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3583a725a59905cfebb443e5a084d621.jpg" alt="Photo - Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow " title=" Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow "><figcaption> Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow </figcaption></figure>
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