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Robber identified with help of Facebook users

Morris police fans spread the word to friends about suspect

Social networking is making it tougher and tougher to be a successful criminal these days.

Just ask Morris Police Chief Brent Dite, whose department came up with a number of leads from the public about Tuesday’s bank robbery suspect after people viewed the subject’s image on Facebook. Police began receiving responses within a half-hour of their posting on Facebook the image of the subject taken by a surveillance camera at the Chase Bank in Morris.

“In this case, the responses we primarily got were when somebody would go to their page and see this, and could repost it on their page,” Dite said.

Fans of the Morris Police indeed spread the word, making the photo viral within the community. Soon enough, the subject was identified as Corey A. Wolfe, 22, of Morris.

“We have 500 or so people who are considered fans of the police department site. If someone else has 400 fans on their Facebook, then we’re connected to those 400 people. Those 400 might send it to their 400 friends, and it just keeps multiplying,” Dite said.

“In the bank robbery case, we ended up getting phone calls from people who said, ‘Hey, I was on Facebook and I saw this. It looks like this person,’ or ‘It looks like that person.’”

Police developed a lot of leads through phone calls after viewers saw the suspect’s image on Facebook.
A social networking Web site, Facebook is for anyone over the age of 13 with a valid e-mail address. Users can add friends and send them message, update their personal profiles, and join networks organized by workplaces, schools and colleges.

Users also can create and join interest and fan groups, some of which are maintained by organizations such as the Morris Police Department and the Morris Daily Herald.

Dite acknowledges Facebook and similar technology can be the new wave in crime fighting.

“With the age in which we live, the technology and advancements being made daily, the law enforcement community is reaching out and looking for a number of different ways to combat crime,” he said.

The suspect’s image, physical description, and the robbery posted by police on the department’s page was the same information submitted to area newspapers.

Dite recalled the Grundy Bank robbery of several years ago, when security cameras captured the suspect’s image on film, which then had to be sent out-of-state for developing.

“It took a little time to get the information out to the media at that time,” Dite noted.

“In this case, with the security system the bank had and other places, we were able to have photos of the suspect in our hands within hours.”

Dite saw no reason against using every means available to police to identify a suspect.

“Considering the amount of people on Facebook and other Web sites out there, a good analogy would probably be if we had 900 or so fans of the Morris Police Department, and a good number of those people saw it and forwarded it on to their page,” he said.

“Literally, within a couple hours, the picture of the suspect could be seen by thousands of people.”

Police are always looking for new tools, and Dite sees this as a new way of disseminating information.

Tuesday’s bank robbery is not the first case in which Facebook was used by the department, however.

“We used it in other cases, but this is the most significant one,” the chief noted. “It’s a more high-profile case and it generated more information because bank robberies are a hot topic.”

Not that Facebook did it alone, Dite pointed out.

“It’s just one tool we used in the case. We had great help from the FBI, who did the interviews; the Illinois State Police, who processed the scene; and the Grundy County Sheriff’s Department, who had a number of officers helping,” he said.

“There were a number of different agencies working together,” Dite said. “Getting that information out there is the key.”

Wolfe’s whereabouts are unknown. He is believed to be driving a 2002 green, 4-door Mercury Marquis with Illinois license plate K470458. Anyone with information is urged to immediately contact the Morris Police Department at (815) 942-2131.

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