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Posted October 24, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Chief urges caution about Facebook incidents 'chatter'

By Joe Beck

Front Royal Police Chief Norman Shiflett said Wednesday no arrests have been made so far in several recently reported cases of strangers approaching girls in the town and acting suspiciously around them.

Shiflett said in an interview the information police have received so far does not show any laws were broken in the incidents, although they have been classified as suspicious.

Shiflett said he has noticed an outpouring of "chatter" on a new Facebook page that gives him "some concern that some innocent person" could be falsely accused of a crime.

In a separate press release, bearing the heading "Rumors," Shiflett described "an abundance of rumors and speculation about these incidents in town.

"Much of the information on the Internet, Facebook in particular, has not been verified or deemed factual," he said.

Shiflett cited two incidents this month in which men in vehicles had driven alongside girls and spoken to them. Police fielded a report on Oct. 4 in which a white male described as 30- to 40 years old with short brown hair and a goatee had asked a girl if she wanted a ride. The man was driving a white Nissan car with front-end damage to the passenger side headlight area, according to police.

The girl rejected the offer and continued walking undisturbed to her destination, Shiflett said.

On Oct. 6, a man in a blue Toyota 4 Runner reportedly drove up to two girls "and made unsavory remarks to them as they were walking down the street" in the area of Bel Air Avenue, he said. The girls fled, and the man drove away, Shiflett said.

"Vehicle and suspect descriptions have changed considerably since the first incident in early October," Shiflett said, adding police "continue to check out each lead and tip called in since these incidents began."

"I think when we get a lot of people on Facebook, and they read all this stuff, they look at things more closely than they normally would," Shiflett said, adding many more incidents have been reported on Facebook than to the police.

Shiffett said the Facebook postings could be leading some people "imagining more things than are actually happening."

"Most people have a computer," he added. "When they get on Facebook, they post anything that may resemble what may have occurred. As far as a man asking a girl if she wanted a ride, anything closely related to that, it gets posted on Facebook and then it just builds and builds."

Shiflett urged the public to call police at 635-2111 or any other law enforcement agency in their area if they see suspicious behavior. But he also asked callers to help police by providing detailed descriptions of vehicles such as make, model, tag number, number of doors, and number of occupants.

"There have been calls received that were vague in content, such as suspicious blue SUV seen in area," Shiflett said.

Police need more information to "more quickly identify the person involved and determine whether the individual is up to no good or perhaps just someone driving down the road," he said.

Shiflett said Facebook can be a valuable tool in solving and preventing crimes if people use caution in their postings.

"If it's factual, I welcome the Facebook postings," he said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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