Published: Aug 20, 2012 5:18 PM EDT
Updated: Aug 20, 2012 6:44 PM EDT

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - A WINK News investigation discovers a crime fighting tool in town and it's helping to protect you.  Call for Action Investigator Genevieve Judge found out how social media is making you safe and could even make you some quick cash.

Typically law enforcement fights crime sitting behind the wheel or on the streets but now they're taking to social media like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to take criminals off the streets.

The days of you've got mail might be long gone but the days of connecting quickly via Facebook and Twitter are here and now.

"That's where a large segment of the world's population is and on a smaller scale, the city of Cape Coral is and southwest Florida," said Lt. Anthony Sizemore, Cape Coral Police Department.

Lt. Sizemore and Detective Sergeant Dana Coston are in charge of social media for the Cape Coral Police Department.

"We've been very fortunate, we've solved a good number of crimes.  Everything up to missing kids to check fraud cases and robbery cases," said Coston.

They started their social media campaign of solving crimes, one wall post or tweet at a time, about 18 months ago.

"Its pretty instantaneous.  Where literally in seconds, we can send out a message," said Sizemore.

Several weeks ago, a bank robbery was first posted on the Cape Coral Police Department's Twitter.  Through tweets, neighbors and businesses were alerted.

"Social media is not some fad that a 13 year old is going to be playing around on their cell phone.  This is the way that media and information is flowing in the 21st century," said Coston.

But Cape Coral isn't alone.  The Fort Myers Police Department, the Charlotte, Lee and Collier County Sheriff's Office and Southwest Florida Crimestoppers all have Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Some have YouTube like the Cape Coral Police Department, to show surveillance video like this of two people breaking into a veterinary office in June.

WINK News discovered it works so well, it's being done almost everywhere.  A survey done by Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions in July shows out of more than 1,200 law enforcement agencies nationwide, 83 percent are using social media to help with investigations.

"These criminals live in our community.  They still shop at the grocery store, they still go to the doctor's office and do the same routines that we do.  So we want to make sure that people have every avenue possible and we want to reach them in every possible," said Trish Routte, Southwest Florida Crimestoppers.

And it can even make you some money, if you follow your local law enforcement online.  Southwest Florida Crimestoppers has made 49 arrests in the last year, through social media, the web, texting, Facebook and Twitter.  Through those arrests, Crimestoppers has paid out $10,655 in rewards and those tips have also taken $13,900 worth of drugs off the streets.

The Lexis Nexis July survey showed the most common use of social media among law enforcement is to help identify people of interest and their associations.  Something Crimestoppers says you can do and stay anonymous.

"It's a safe way to do the right thing, get these criminals off the street and we're going to continue to provide them with the information so that they know whose wanted and how they can help make their community safer," said Routte.

If you do report a top to any law enforcement agency, you can remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward with Crimestoppers.  The way they track you is by assigning you a number, never by name, so you can stay safe while you help catch crooks.