Vol. 80, No. 2News notes

Female hands holding a smartphone displaying the partial image of a man on social media.

Social media followers help investigators

The RCMP in Nova Scotia turned to its social media accounts to help locate a person of interest. Credit: RCMP


When investigators with Nova Scotia's Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) Unit started to worry a suspect could soon be on the run, the RCMP's social media followers may have saved the day.

In November 2017, the RCMP was having trouble locating Aaron Byron Cumberland, who now faces three counts of luring of a child, making sexually explicit material available to a child and invitation to sexual touching. After the usual fact-finding channels came up empty, investigators turned to RCMP Nova Scotia's Strategic Communications Unit for help.

Hours later, Cumberland was in custody.

"It was so important," says Cst. Vicki Colford, an ICE investigator, about the posting. "So many people saw it in such a short period of time. It was awesome."

It all began on Nov. 16 when police issued a warrant for Cumberland, who they believed was visiting friends in the province. However, Cumberland couldn't be found and police suspected he could be headed to the United States.

"His social media had him staying with different people at different places and trying to track him to a location was difficult," says Colford.

Eventually police learned that Cumberland intended to leave on Nov. 18 and plans were made to arrest him at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. But on Nov. 17, the ICE team discovered he wasn't flying out.

"We were worried he was going to be evading us," says Colford, adding officers then decided to ask their strategic communications colleagues for assistance.

Once it was clear there was a threat to public safety, Cumberland's picture was posted on Nova Scotia RCMP's Facebook and Twitter accounts and followers were informed he was a wanted man. More than 100,000 people viewed the information within an hour.

Then, less than three hours after the posting, the suspect turned himself in to Halifax Regional Police. He has since been charged and a trial is scheduled in June.

"In this case, the use of social media inadvertently put the heat on this person," says Lia Scanlan, a senior communications advisor. "I would say it was highly likely someone called him and said, 'You might want to Google your name.' "

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