Ottawa police say posting pictures of criminals to ID them isn't a good idea

Police are concerned about a trend involving victims of crime turning the tables on thieves by posting pictures of suspects online.

Ottawa chip truck owners turn to social media for help, get thousands of hits and tips, to solve 6 break-ins

Lucie and Richard Eng's chip truck, the Sweet Potato, has been broken into six times since they opened it. Frustrated with the police response, the couple posted pictures of the thieves online, captured on a security camera. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

A trend involving victims of crime turning the tables on thieves by posting pictures of suspects online is causing concern among police, who warn such actions could even threaten a case.

An Ottawa glassblowing shop received a lot of response on social media after posting security camera footage of a man appearing to take something from behind the counter in April.

When a toboggan was stolen from the Cheshire Cat Pub in Carp in March, the owners threatened to put a photo of the thief on Facebook unless they came forward to return it.

And when taxi drivers were attacked by protesters on the Airport Parkway in September, two separate dashcam videos helped police identify the suspects, make arrests and lay charges.

Chip truck owners stolen from 6 times

Ottawa resident Richard Eng and his wife are the latest victims of crime to turn to the internet and social media for help.

Their daughter bought them a food truck two years ago to pull them out of retirement, but since then, the truck has been broken into six times, causing hundreds of dollars in damage even though the thieves only make off with food and soda pop.

"It's very stressful. Very, very stressful," said Eng.

"Everybody who comes up to the chip truck after, I go, are you the thief? Are you the thief? Are you coming back to laugh at me? That's what my stress is."

So after another break-in on Saturday, due to his frustration about the lack of a police response, he decided to fight back.

He took pictures captured by his surveillance camera and posted them on Facebook for all to see.

"I don't want to take the law into my hand but I do want to make people aware in Carp, if they see these kids or see this gentleman, they are thieves. It's not right," he said. "I think six times is quite enough. It's enough."

Widely shared suspect IDs can hamper police investigations

Staff Sgt. Glenn Wasson warns against trying to solve crimes on your own, says photos like Eng's should be submitted to investigators and that posting them online could hamper police investigations.

Ottawa police west division Staff Sgt. Glenn Wasson says posting pictures of suspected thieves online can cause problems for police investigations. (CBC News)

"If a suspect sees that they've been identified ... through the internet or social media, there's a good chance that they're going to do whatever they can to take police off their trail and destroy evidence, any evidence, that may be available to us through an investigation," Wasson said.

Identities of suspects shared widely online can also affect a suspect's right to a fair trial.

"It's about thinking about what you're doing and what the potential repercussions can be when you post things on social media," Wasson said.

Still, Eng is glad he shared the pictures because people have been telling him the identities of the suspects.

"We posted it on Facebook and we had over 100,000 hits. And people are texting us, emailing us and Facebooking us telling us who they are, which is wonderful. The support of the community is awesome."

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