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Social media off the mark about recent active crime situations

Caution: Active crime situations on social media might be less alarming than they appear.

On Sept. 4, three people were detained following numerous reports of shots fired from a moving pickup truck driving around Vancouver. A couple of weeks earlier, Vancouver police chased a suspect into Camas and were unable to locate him despite an extensive search.

Numerous social media posts claimed that the incidents involved an active shooter. Those claims were wrong.

In the most recent incident, Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency dispatchers were inundated with calls of shots fired from a moving vehicle between 8:30 and 9 p.m. The source was narrowed to a white pickup, Vancouver police Sgt. Kevin Barton said.

Police weren’t sure if the sounds were a result of shots fired or a truck backfiring. Since then, no evidence of gunfire had been located, Vancouver Police Department spokeswoman Kim Kapp said in an email.

Regardless, three people in a 1999 Ford F-250 were detained around 9 p.m. at the intersection of Northeast Minnehaha Street and Northeast St. Johns Road. They were making a five-minute trip to a convenience store when they were pulled over, said Brandon Zacharias, who said he was one of the three detained.

Zacharias said no guns were inside the car. At the time, though, it didn’t matter. Police surrounded the truck and ordered them to show their hands, pointing numerous rifles in their direction, Zacharias said.

“It’s just clink, clink, clink,” Zacharias said of the sound of rifles being raised. “It was pretty scary.”

Zacharias said he was detained for roughly two hours before being released. On Facebook, though, the debate had just begun, as hundreds of commenters debated whether it was a backfiring truck or actual shots fired.

“That was no backfire. They went right past my house,” one comment read.

Meanwhile, another one claimed, “There is a white Ford pickup that’s driving around town and is backfiring and people are freaking out. The police are aware of it. It is not gunshots.”

For his part, Zacharias said the truck was backfiring due to a faulty gas pedal.

“The only thing we did was break the speed limit by a couple of miles per hour,” Zacharias said.

One commenter even claimed to hear gunshots more than 5 miles away from where they were detained.

“That’s not what happened,” Zacharias said. “I’m not sure where those people’s stories were coming from.”

Facebook falsehoods

On Aug. 21, Vancouver police were dispatched at 10:23 a.m. to the area of Northeast 18th Street and Northeast 162nd Avenue for a report of a driver traveling at high speeds, weaving in and out of traffic and running red lights. A pursuit ensued, and the driver abandoned the vehicle on the 700 block of Northwest 20th Avenue in Camas, Kapp said.

Callers reported seeing a man matching the description of the driver leaping over fences near the abandoned car, Kapp said. Police set up a containment perimeter but couldn’t find him and cleared the scene.

On Facebook, the chase story took a few more (untrue) turns.

“Camas sirens have been consistent the last hour. Gun shots in the distance. Apparently there is a (man) armed and running through backyards,” one post read.

Camas Police Sgt. Scot Boyles noted that some officers held rifles as they searched for the driver. He also pointed to recent mass shootings that have made headlines.

“I think that alarmed some people,” Boyles said.

So much so, in fact, that the city of Camas posted about it on multiple platforms, specifically noting misinformation on social media.

“Reports on social media of an active shooter are not accurate,” read a post on the city’s Facebook page. “(The Camas Police Department) is assisting Vancouver Police on an ongoing case, but there is no public danger.”

Boyles said that police largely were not aware of the social media rumors until after the scene was cleared.

“If there’s misinformation about an active shooter, people can, kind of, act in an urgent manner. We’re trying to nip that in the bud,” he said. “That’s why we try to (catch suspects) as quickly and safely as we can. But it’s not always accurate information coming to our dispatch, and I can’t imagine social media is more accurate than that.”

If a critical incident was taking place in a neighborhood, police would immediately release needed information, including reclamation points and trauma centers, Boyles said. “Don’t jump to conclusions, and look for a trustworthy source of information before you react.”


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