Facebook crime-watch page puts 6,100 citizens on patrol

The face of crime in Darlington County? A masked and armed man robs a convenience store at 6700 Oates Highway in the Timmonsville area in February. This image was captured by a surveillance camera and released by the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office. Concern about this type of random crime seems to be fueling interest in a Facebook crime-watch page.

By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

It’s a Monday night, and here’s the talk on one Facebook page:

“The police/sheriffs just leaving a residence in Pine Ridge, Sampit Drive.”

“More to go.”

“Need to lock them all up.”

“Loud boom near Hogge Precision. What is it?”

“I heard it’s from the peach farm.”

“Vacant car in a ditch. Reported to 911. People at the corner said a man wrecked and then took off. LEO enroute to location.”

“My wife just about run somebody over on Lakeview Boulevard going to be nice stop to help they jumped on her truck she had to go back for help at Fox’s Corner police come did not lock him up. … I cannot get a call back from 911 to see what went on thank you.”

You’re reading Darlington County Residents Crime Information Group, and you are not alone.

The page – illustrated by a photo of a man in a ski mask and a leather jacket peering through a door – has 6,100 members.

“With the increasing theft in the area, residents need a group to share information,” the Facebook page explains to readers.

“ … Post at will the information you have, e.g. areas of criminal activities, items that the thieves are taking, vehicle descriptions and personal descriptions,” it advises.

And people do.

They also post information about missing dogs, litter, teenagers locked out of cars, fake IDs, telephone scams, home-security systems, coyote sightings, shared videos of shoplifters at the Darlington Wal-Mart (one man, pushing a buggy loaded with what looks like a flatscreen TV, somehow just strolls right by a checkout clerk), and breaking news (“As of 7 p.m. tonight, there will be no more Lamar Police!! I got this from a very reliable source!!”).

It’s a combination of a Community Crime Watch, a local TV-news broadcast and a police-radio scanner. And for many, it’s both irresistible and useful.

The page is the creation of Pee Dee residents Richie Stevens and his wife, Gye Singh Stevens. Started in January, it’s racked up its remarkable 6,100 members in only a couple of months.

On March 24, Richie Stevens told the News & Press that he would do an interview with the newspaper about the couple’s plans for the Facebook page. But he did not respond to further inquiries and could not be reached for comment before the newspaper had to go to press.

Darlington County Sheriff Tony Chavis “doesn’t do Facebook, but he knows about the page,” said sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Robby Kilgo. “The sheriff is in support of the community coming together to share information with each other and law enforcement.”

“Law enforcement cannot be everywhere, and we need the community to be our eyes and ears,” Kilgo said. “That is why the sheriff has made sure the community has a plethora of ways to share tips with us. Also, the sheriff is very adamant about keeping the public informed.”

City of Darlington Public Safety Director Kelvin Washington said he wasn’t familiar with the Facebook page.

The crime-watch page is sometimes as dispassionate as a police incident report – just the facts – but crime is a hot-button issue, and sometimes, group members disagree with each other, creating strings of back-and-forth arguments. One man complained that the page was focusing too much on one suspect, triggering a round of rebukes from people who said they were victimized by that suspect.

It led the original dissenter to criticize the Facebook page and its effectiveness. “Revealing yourselves to the (potential) criminals in this group is not smart,” he wrote. “… People are only making themselves targets. … Twenty-nine people in this group have talked about getting their CWP (concealed-weapon permit) and buying a weapon. … That 29 told the whole county they don’t currently carry.”

Other members argued that he was wrong and that not having a permit for a concealed weapon doesn’t mean you’re totally unarmed.

Sometimes, an especially painful post will draw several dozen emotional responses. This is one example:

“Came home after a looongg day of work,” one woman posted. “Pulled up in my back yard to dump trash in the barrel and my window A.C. was on the ground and the window up and the pole the A.C. was under leaning against the house. I live on Hidden Creek. I’m nervous and scared I don’t even want to sleep here tonight.”

One member of the site told her in a comment, “I know how you feel and that is terrible. People should not have to go through stuff like this.”

Another poster advised: “If u do end up staying somewhere else tonight, I would try and have someone watch my house just in case they come back!!”

“You feel violated,” another member commented. “And are terrified. … It will pass and you will feel safe in your home again. In time.”

“I’m so ashamed that us (women) today have (to) carry around guns, knives and etc.,” another member admitted.
“Praying for God to take your fear away and fill you with His presence,” another comment said.

“Shoot baby shoot and talk later,” someone else advised.

At times, the crime-watch page can become even more personal. One woman posted a long message about her own family’s experiences with crimes fueled by drug addiction.

“I’ve actually had my daughter show up on this page for stealing a truck she didn’t even remember stealing due to drugs,” the woman wrote. “She’s doing better now and I hope she continues to do so. … Every single person my young adult kids have called friends recently have been locked up in the past few months on theft and/or drug charges.
“ … I let them know that if they ever want help, I’ll go through hell and back with them and for them. But as long as they are using and committing crimes, they have to face the consequences of their actions. Getting locked up and ending up on this (Facebook) page are consequences of that lifestyle. Who knows, (ending) up on this page might just save someone’s life on either side of the fence.

“ … I wish I had a solution where all the addicts could get help and everyone could feel safe in their own neighborhoods, but I don’t,” the woman continued. “This page is at least attempting to protect ourselves and our neighbors from a situation that has grown way out of control. It’s huge. Awareness is a beginning towards a solution. … Though I’ve seen a wacky post or two … this Facebook page is attempting to be a part of the solution.

If that offends you, then just stay off the page.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: On March 27, the creators of the crime-watch page changed the page’s “privacy setting” from “public” to “closed.” That means that now, only people who are members of the page can see what people are posting on the page. In effect, it keeps random, casual readers out of the page. All of the material cited in this story was published on the crime-watch page during the two months or so when it was operating as a “public” page, open to being read by anyone with Internet access.

Author: Rachel Howell

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