Altoona police Facebook site No. 1

Not long ago, a woman who’s a fan of the Altoona Police Department’s Facebook site posted an observation about alarming comments a friend of hers had made on her own Facebook wall.

“Oh my goodness,” was the reaction of APD Facebook coordinator Brian Freiwald.

The APD Facebook site is popular.

So popular that this week the International Association of Chiefs of Police reported that it passed a department in Alabama as the most “liked” Facebook site in the nation for a department its size, with 20,967 fans.

Through postings of videos, mug shots and text, the site helps police quickly identify and apprehend suspects caught on commercial or public security cameras and people for whom there’s an arrest warrant and it helps them locate lost people and animals.

It’s also a forum for scam alerts and safety messages and an avenue for publicizing programs food drives and community relations programs.

There are plenty of examples of run-of-the-mill helpfulness:

— A video of a retail theft led to identification of a suspect in five minutes.

— A video of a purse theft in a store led to an identification of the suspect in 34 minutes.

— A picture of a Megan’s Law offender whose warrant sat in a drawer for months generated a tip that located the offender in a college-level classroom in Williamsport in eight minutes, leading to an arrest.

— A video from a dollar store robbery led to the arrest the same day of two participants in a string of robberies.

— A post about a ferret running loose on North Seventh Avenue led to its owner claiming the animal – which turned out to be a silver mink – within a couple hours.

— Notices about a holiday food drive staffed by officers led to the biggest one-day haul in the history of the beneficiary food pantry.

— Postings for the Candy from a Cop program generated positive Halloween experiences with cops for kids who might previously have had nothing but the opposite.

— And a posting about a fatal accident led to a radio report about the traffic jam it generated before an officer arrived at the scene.

“I love catching the bad guys and girls,” Freiwald said. “I love giving information to keep the people safe.”

The page “has solved a lot of crimes and made the city safer,” said City Councilman Dave Butterbaugh. “I’m amazed how quick they put a picture up … and within seconds, they have a serious lead.”

But in the case of a recent Clearfield case, it might have saved a life.

The friend had written virtual suicide note.

There was a “good-bye,” and “you won’t see me tomorrow,” Freiwald said.

Freiwald, who was monitoring the site at the time, took screen shots of the page and notified the crisis center in the woman’s area.

A visit by ambulance workers led to an involuntary commitment in the local hospital.

It wasn’t the only such case.

Around Christmas, a suicide note in private message to the department Facebook site from a man whose name Freiwald recognized led to a welfare check and a crisis center intervention – after some scrambling due to a lapsed driver’s license that made tracking him difficult at first.

“That’s why I got into this job,” Freiwald said, speaking broadly. “Helping people.”

He wanted to be a veterinarian. But after starting out as a paramedic, he took a detour into police work.

He began his work on the site in 2012, after it had stagnated.

He took action after seeing people around town “tied” to their smart phones.

“I thought, ‘let’s harness all these,'” he said. “Let’s give them something and hopefully [get] something back.”

The site’s success is “directly related to the interaction,” he said.

You can’t let it get boring, he said.

People like the site because they find it easier than calling the department – or meeting officers face-to-face, Freiwald said.

He responds to everyone.

He’s the only one in the department with access to the site, so there’s a coherent focus, without distractions that can cause the premature abandonment of an important topic.

The site has become especially important as it seeks to make up for manpower shortages resulting from retirements triggered by limitations imposed by Act 47, he said.

The site’s efficiency is equivalent to “multiple” officers, he said.

“Previously, we canvassed, knocked on doors [and] did legwork” that often is unnecessary now.

“Work smarter, not harder,” he said.

The site’s fans are half the deal.

“I consider it a team effort,” he said.

Freiwald often checks the site when he wakes up during the night, in case something urgent has been posted.

The site isn’t manned around the clock.

The department recently named Freiwald its community relations officer, which will give him more time to work the site during his hours on the job.

“[The new post] suits me,” said Freiwald, an Eagle Scout who graduated from Westmont Hilltop High School in 1990. “I’m a people person.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.