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Neighborhood Watch for the Web Age

Municipalities across the state are joining Crimewatch Pennsylvania, a website service designed to be a "workforce multiplier" in fighting crime.

Many criminals are good at taking advantage of the Internet to propagate their crimes. It's only fair that police turn the tables.

The Carlisle Police Department last week joined other municipalities as part of an online reporting system. Crimewatch Pennsylvania is a website service designed specifically for police departments.

It includes the latest reports from police, information about most-wanted individuals and ways for the public to interact with the police via email, phone or an online form for submitting tips anonymously.

It's another weapon in the arsenal, so to speak, that law enforcement can use to keep residents informed and, in the long run, catch criminals.

The website will be linked to social media accounts set up for Carlisle Police.

The Sentinel took a closer look at social media, the Internet and law enforcement in March. We reported that nearly 96 percent of police departments use social media in some capacity, according to a recent survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

"We share this information with the public as a goal of engagement. Once we have the people engaged we can ask them for help in solving crimes. We use the public as a workforce multiplier," said Matt Bloom, founder of the Carlisle-based company Crimewatch Pennsylvania.

Of course, law enforcement can go too far. We don't support what the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recently ran into when it set up a fake Facebook account, with photos and other personal data from a New York woman's cellphone after she was arrested.

The Facebook page was used to trick her friends into revealing information about a cocaine ring. The woman is suing for $250,000 in compensation.

At first, the Justice Department protected the practice in court, but now says it is considering whether it went too far, The Associated Press reported Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon as saying.

The AP reported that the Justice Department initially defended the practice in court filings but now says it is reviewing whether the Facebook guise went too far.

There's no debate: It did.

But the new Carlisle Police website is not about fake Facebook profiles. It's about engaging the community. It provides basic information about arrests and, as Bloom described it, provides a "workforce multiplier" in fighting crime. We, the residents of the Midstate, are that workforce multiplier, because we can provide eyes and ears to help law enforcement.

It's like a Neighborhood Watch group for the information age. And that's a good thing.

©2014 The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pa.)