CHARLES CITY, Iowa - Charges are pending against three men and others after an investigation that started with a stolen computer that was listed on a 'for sale group' on a social media site that eventually lead into the discovery of stolen handguns and narcotics.
Around 2:25 p.m. on Thursday, Charles City Police obtained and executed a search warrant on an apartment in the 600 block of Milwaukee Street, and recovered the laptop. Over the course of five hours, a series of search warrants and traffic stops lead to three arrests as well as seizure of drug-related items and stolen guns, as well as information on them.
While more and more departments are having some presence on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, it is also proving to be a useful tool during investigations, but authorities say it can be a double edged sword.
Police Chief Hugh Anderson didn't anticipate that the seemingly small case would evolve how it did.
"We started at 7 o' clock in the morning, and I think by the time deputies and officers were finished, it was into the early morning hours of this morning."
But he sees the bigger picture.
"It's always a pleasant surprise when we can recover something else, in this case it's stolen guns. It's always great to get some guns off the street that may go into criminal hands and may be used in some sort of criminal activity."
He recounts a similar incident to Thursday's involving a stolen saxophone that went for sale on social media.
"We did a sting operation and ended up buying the stolen saxophone back from the person who had taken it and ended up charging him at that time."
In addition, Anderson notes that social media can aid them when they're trying to keep community members safe from harm, citing a recent unrelated example.
"We're looking for somebody that might've threatened to harm themselves. Through social media, we were able to locate that person, whereas we had no other way to locate that person at that time. So social media helps us in so many different avenues, that we can get out there and meet these people through the social media, and sometimes make a personal contact through that also."
But can social media also be a hindrance to investigators?
Anderson notes that with an active investigation, people should be careful to not reveal pertinent information to an active case.
"We like to have things kept close to the vest in case we're doing an active investigation that maybe the suspect we don't want them to know at this time, so we just caution people sometimes what they put on social media."
The Cerro Gordo County Sheriffs Department also uses social media to aid in investigations, but Sheriff Kevin Pals says every tip or post that comes in has to be investigated first.
"We don't just take the tips and say 'Go arrest them!' We have to follow up on that and do our due diligence to get that information."