Toronto police tap into power of social media to catch city's most wanted criminals
Published Tuesday, May 1, 2018 1:39PM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, May 1, 2018 7:13PM EDT
Toronto police detectives are honing in on the power of social media to capture some of the city’s most wanted criminals.
Through a new pilot project, done in collaboration with Montreal-based non-profit Stephan Crétier Foundation, police want to spread the word about outstanding suspects through public awareness campaigns.
The program, dubbed the BOLO Program, is short for ‘Be On the Lookout.’
Det. Sgt. Stacy Gallant says the idea is to disseminate information to as many tipsters as possible, whether that be online, or through simpler tactics like T-shirts and flyers with the names and photos of suspects printed on them.
“We’re targeting people that may know these individuals personally and may not have, in the past, wanted to call in or tell us where they are,” Gallant told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday.
“Hopefully this can put some pressure on the people that know them or know where they are.”
Gallant said while police already maintain a social media presence through multiple accounts, they’ve had trouble reaching a “greater mass” and decided to collaborate on BOLO to expand that scope.
Maxime Langlois, the general manager of the Stephan Crétier Foundation, says social media is just one of the “about 50” tools they plan on using.
“Any marketing person will tell you that social media is very compelling in reaching people, it gives you good yield for a relatively low budget,” Langlois said. “If you sell products or services on social media, it’s very hard to get people’s attention… People don’t necessarily care about your shampoo or running shoes, but in this case, people care.”
Since the BOLO Program launched its first case spotlight on April 19, Langlois said they’ve already reached 250,000 people on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
He said the plan for the BOLO Program is to partner with other police services across the country and build a list to target 15 to 20 of Canada’s most wanted fugitives.
In Toronto alone, there are eight outstanding warrants for murder from 2015 to 2018, and a total of 27 dating back to 1983.
Gallant said police have already been receiving tips “as a direct result of the campaign.”
“We’re not searching for evidence. These are cases that are already before the courts. We’re trying to find these people to bring them into custody so that they can have their trial and their day in court. So anonymous information on where these people are is extremely helpful,” Gallant said. “We’re not looking for witnesses anymore. We’re looking for people to tell us where individuals are hiding.”
The initiative is starting off by highlighting two specific cases.
The first is Alexander Fountain, who is wanted in connection with the killing of an innocent man in Scarborough’s Chester Le neighbourhood.
The body of Samatar Farah was found by a resident near a housing complex on Chester Le Boulveard, near Finch Avenue East and Victoria Park Avenue, in the early morning hours of April 15, 2017.
Police believe Farah, who had no criminal history, was murdered as a result of an ongoing feud between residents of two adjacent housing complexes. The relatively high-profile case stunned the young man’s family, who said the “senseless” violence took “one of the good ones.”
More than two months later, police arrested two suspects in connection with the case and issued a Canada wide arrest warrant for Fountain.
He is wanted by authorities on three counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree murder.
The second case involves Tommy Ngo, who is wanted on a Canada-wide arrest warrant in connection to the death of 23-year-old Russell Sahadeo in Toronto in September 2015. At the time, police said Sahadeo was fatally stabbed when he became involved in an altercation with two other men at Noble Park, in the city’s west end.
Langlois said that the BOLO Program is focusing on social media coverage to generate tips about Fountain’s whereabouts and “field work” for Ngo’s case.
Ngo’s mugshot and photo have been printed on bright yellow T-shirts which will be worn by volunteers in neighbourhoods around Toronto over the next few days. The volunteers will also be distributing flyers with the same design.
“We take the information that’s already publicly available on a case, we repackage it and then we boost it to unprecedented levels,” Langlois said. “We’re doing some sort of A - B tests at the moment. We want to see how the public reacts to this first.”
Det. Sgt. Wayne Banks of the Toronto Police Fugitive Squad says the pilot project is a “win-win situation” for law enforcement and citizens.
“Any information we can get and any cooperation from private companies, from foundations, from the public, to identify where wanted people are is to the benefit of everybody,” he said.