NJ shrimp shoplifter caught thanks to social media post, State Police say
State Police knew something was fishy when a shrimp shoplifter carted away nearly $500 worth of frozen seafood from an Upper Township ShopRite. But thanks to social media and other law enforcement agencies, authorities say they've netted the alleged culprit.
Christopher Wells, 33, of Bayville, has been charged with shoplifting in connection with the incident, according to state police.
Last month, NJ State Police posted surveillance images of the suspect on Facebook. The man was caught on camera at 7:12 p.m. on April 7 at a ShopRite in Cape May County township filling up reusable shopping bags with bags of frozen shrimp, police said in a statement on Facebook.
Authorities say the decision to cast a wider net by posting the images on social media ultimately helped them haul in the suspect.
"We have many Facebook followers, including officers from other agencies. A detective from Little Egg Harbor Police Department took note of our post and contacted our detectives to share notes on a similar investigation," NJ State Police said.
According to NJ State Police Sgt. Jeff Flynn, who is in charge of the agency's social media efforts, authorities learned that Little Egg Harbor Police had a similar shoplifting case involving shoplifting frozen shrimp. Flynn said police located and interviewed Wells, who was eventually charged and released pending a future court date.
"At the end of the day, we strongly advise anyone interested in selling shrimp to invest in a shrimping boat," State Police said on Facebook in a nod to the movie "Forest Gump." "Now, just to be clear, we've never been on a shrimping boat, but we've been on a real big boat."
It turns out that the alleged shrimp shoplifter was not the first suspect that NJ State Police were able to capture as a result of social media. In recent years, the law enforcement agency has stepped up its efforts to be more active on accounts such as Facebook and Twitter, often bringing a touch of humor to the posts.
Flynn said the social media posts - particularly on Facebook - have resulted in success both in terms of solving cases and fostering community relations.
"We've been really stepping it up the last few years," Flynn told New Jersey 101.5.
In some cases, social media posts have actually reached the suspects themselves, Flynn said. There have been instances in which people on Facebook recognize a suspect in a post and then tag them "within minutes." Other times, suspects have seen posts about themselves surface on Facebook and have actually gone to police headquarters and surrendered as a result.
Flynn said people "seem to be responding" to the agency's increased efforts to be more active on social media.
"I think part of it is just to have a good variety of posts, and trying to be lighthearted, because a lot of things tend to be a little dry," Flynn said.
The sergeant said a lot of times, NJ residents' only interaction with state police involves incidents such as motor vehicle stops. The social media outreach lets people see a different side of the NJ State Police.
"It's a good way for us to show that we're just regular people," Flynn said. "We laugh, we cry and we have a sense of humor."
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.