Florida sheriff halts Facebook comments because too many crimes reported

Pasco County Sheriff’s Office says 911 or website should be used instead

The icons of Facebook and WhatsApp are seen on an iPhone in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Nov. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. – A Florida sheriff’s office has turned off public comments on its social media posts because authorities said too many people are reporting crimes there rather than calling 911 or submitting tips through the agency’s website.

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office has for years maintained popular accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, capitalizing on the popularity it gained from the A&E show “Live PD" and securing a copyright for the hashtag #9pmroutine, which is a nightly reminder for people to lock up their cars and houses, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

The agency has some 300,000 followers on Facebook and about 131,000 on Twitter, in a county with 583,000 residents.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Sheriff Chris Nocco said they will no longer allow public comment out of fear that the agency could miss “life-or-death" information.

“Social media was not designed for that purpose,” Sheriff Chris Nocco said the in the post. “To be clear, this was not a decision we take lightly."

The change was prompted after his three-member public information team began posting more social media notices about missing persons and runaway teens, Nocco said. These posts drew overwhelming comments from people reporting crimes and leaving tips in social media threads.

“However, with the continued growth in our county and the need to continue to provide resources to serve our growing population, there was not a possibility to hire the people that would be required to monitor our social media platforms on a consistent, 24/7 basis for 365 days a year,” he said.

Some criticized the decision before the comments were cut off, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

“If people weren’t comfortable using the other formats to leave tips before, they won’t be comfortable with it now. It will just leave you with less tips,” one user wrote.

“It’s almost like you want to discourage people from providing information,” another user wrote.

The sheriff also noted the “unfortunate growth in negative and hurtful comments, especially directed to runaways."

He said that these kinds of comments can be “hurtful to those individuals and their families who are often looking for needed assistance."

“Imagine, just for a moment, if that was your loved one that had gone missing and you are desperate to find them but, instead of seeing help, you see commentary asking about their upbringing, their looks or the type of picture that was provided to law enforcement," the sheriff wrote.

While the social media platforms will be a one-way communication tool for now, spokeswoman Amanda Hunter told the Times they'll also provide breaking news updates through a new blog-style website — news.pascosheriff.com.

And in an emergency, she notes, the public should always call 911 for assistance.