Cambria deputy searches Facebook for wanted individuals

EBENSBURG – Sheriff’s Deputy Tracy Swope is one of the few people who can get away with browsing Facebook while at work.

That’s because when Swope is online, she is following up on anonymous tips and helping the Cambria County Sheriff’s Office track down criminals.

With thousands of “likes” on the social media site and dozens of arrests credited to information solicited from the page, the online initiative has paid off, Swope said.

“We probably had about 20 [arrests] in the last two months that we picked up just from social media,” Swope said.

Swope, a Carrolltown resident, saw the success of other area law enforcement agencies’ Facebook pages and created one for the county sheriff’s office.

Fans who “like” Cambria County Sheriff’s Office page on the social media site can see mugshots of wanted individuals and email anonymous tips to the sheriff’s office.

One anonymous tip led to the arrest of an individual in Erie. Another tipster alerted sheriff’s deputies to a wanted individual who was caught sleeping on a couch.

Swope posted photos from the March 11 bank robbery in Ebensburg on the county sheriff’s office page, and within a matter of days, the photos had been shared more than 73,000 times.

“That’s just amazing,” Swope said.

Swope said she typically posts offenders of all types, including individuals wanted for theft, drugs or domestic issues.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” Swope said.

While Swope is able to browse Facebook while at the courthouse, most of the work is done at her own home.

“I do most of it on my own time,” Swope said.

After her day at the courthouse ends, Swope said she is at home with her husband caring for their 2-year-old son.

And when her son is asleep, Swope works to sift through the anonymous tips submitted to the page and prepares to follow up on any plausible leads.

Swope was recognized for her efforts during the Cambria County commissioners meeting in late February.

County Sheriff Bob Kolar praised Swope for her hard work.

“She’s short in stature, but don’t let that fool you,” he said. “She is a giant when it comes to work ethic.”

Commissioners presented Swope with a certificate of recognition and thanked her for arming law enforcement with another tool: information.

The Facebook page has been helpful in tracking down wanted individuals, but also has been invaluable in spreading information about an upcoming fundraiser to fund training classes for a new K-9 for the department as well as purchases new K-9 equipment.

The fundraiser is set for April 28 at Central Cambria High School.

The county sheriff’s current K-9, Alli, is suffering from health ailments and is set to retire from law enforcement. A grant through k9s4cops.org covered the costs of the new police dog.

K-9 handler Deputy Steve Szymusiak said the K-9 is an invaluable asset to the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office is routinely called to assist other departments track down suspects or assist with narcotics investigations, he said. And the team routinely visits schools, where children enjoy seeing the K-9, he said.

“We don’t want to lose that asset,” Swope said.

Fans of the sheriff department’s Facebook page can learn more about the fundraiser and even order shirts and hats through the site, Swope said.

While Swope is no stranger to escorting inmates from prison to the courthouse to stand trial, she said she is comfortable managing outstanding warrants and helping her colleagues track down offenders from her desk in the courthouse.

“I enjoy doing this more,” Swope said. “It helps a lot when you have the public telling you where [suspects] are.”

Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.