By Charlotte Aguilar and George Boehme
Reality in West University can be scary enough
— robberies on quiet residential streets, a pursesnatching
witnessed by toddlers, residents being
followed from banks and businesses and confronted in
their driveways by criminals brandishing guns.
While city leaders move to make West U safer with a network
of perimeter cameras that will turn the city into a virtual gated
community, they have a new concern: The impact of social
often well-meaning but troubling postings.
Increasingly, neighborhood-centric social media sites contain
reports of “suspicious” persons and rumored incidents ranging
from assaults to misbehaving teens to nannies who someone
Most concerning to West U’s leaders are those who choose to
take to social media to tap out their frantic warnings instead of
making an emergency 911 call to those who could investigate
and potentially prevent or solve a crime.
West University Police Chief Ken Walker is blunt: “If you see
a threat or threatening situation, call 911 immediately. Do not
wait until you get home to call. Your failure to call immediately
could cause someone to be injured or killed.”
University Information Exchange on Facebook, most reliably
a remarkable community resource that provides everything
from recommendations for medical specialists to tracking down
an emergency child’s costume to reuniting a lost pet with its
A resident, self-described as out for her morning exercise while
pushing a stroller, posted a quick note on the West U Info
Exchange claiming to have spotted a “homeless” man not far
from Colonial Park, walking down a residential block toting a
“long gun.” She said she had reported the man to police.
Panicked responses and questions ensued. One mother feared
for her three children at West U Elementary School. Others said
they were sheltering-in-place and wondered why police hadn’t
issued an alert.
It turned out the woman didn’t report the man to police, and
case, heading to Colonial Park to practice his casting.
That message got out only after Mayor Susan Sample collected
facts and posted an accurate account. Only then did the woman
delete the post.
Sample is a voice of calm — just the facts, ma’am — as she
monitors these social media platforms and tries to stay ahead
of rumors and false reports. “I urge residents to program police
non-emergency number, (713) 668-0330, into their phone, and
use it if they see something suspicious,” Sample says. “Police
welcome these calls and will be dispatch right away.
“If the issue appears more urgent, always call 911.”
Responsible social media reporting is one of today’s real world
challenges says West University Place City Manager Chris
“More and more of the today’s society live daily on social media.
It can be a wonderful tool; however, false information can
on the public psyche which can impact their sense of safety and
“Once this initial impression is made, albeit false, it is most
can cause us to expend our resources unnecessarily, and God
forbid they may be needed elsewhere while we are tracking
down a false lead.
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When gossip mongering overtakes crime reporting