By PAUL J. SPETRINI
Social media has changed the way society works, from everyday communications with friends and family members to the way employers screen potential job interviews and single men and women look for possible dating matches.
Now, it may begin changing police work as well.
For the second time in recent months, the North Kingstown Police Department is turning to Facebook in an attempt to solve a long-thought-unsolvable cold case.
This time, the department is looking for information related to the presumed homicide of John Phillips, who was found in the parking lot of Golf World, located at 22 Austin Road, following a house party on Oct. 27, 1986.
According to a press release issued last week, Phillips, who was 19 at the time of his death, was found “surrounded by numerous guns, knives and ammunition” from the same house where he had attended the party to watch Game Seven of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets.
Police determined Phillips died from a single gunshot to the head and, according to NK Police Captain Patrick Flanagan, the department has not given up in their effort to solve the mystery 26 years later.
“Well, over the years I’ve had different contacts with the family,” said Flanagan, who was first assigned the case 12 years ago. “They known from the beginning, we’ve reassured them that it wasn’t left on the shelf and just gathering dust and they’re very positive toward us.”
Through the years, the Phillips case has hovered and been passed around the NK Police Department, Flanagan said, with he himself assigned it first as a detective in 1996 and later when he became the head of detectives.
Now, he is a captain and he’s willing to try a new approach to gather that last bit of information he feels his team needs to crack the case.
“Once you basically pick up one of these cases and you meet the family and you get in-depth with the whole case and see how it is … it becomes personal,” he said. “In the back of your head, you want it solved and you want to do it for the families and for the victim, so someone can speak for the victim so over the years, it always lingers in the back of your head.”
Flanagan is working with Sergeant John MacCoy Jr. on monitoring a special Facebook page for Phillips. The hope is that the site turns up a workable lead or inspires someone with information to come forward so that the department can finally take the crime off the books.
At this point, even the smallest of details could make a world of difference.
And Flanagan feels the allure of the internet might attract those who would otherwise feel uncomfortable helping the police.
“I think with this social networking type stuff, it’s easier because people aren’t face to face with you,” he said. “It’s easier to type on a screen and send a message and say ‘Hey this is what I’ve got, see what you can do with it’ whereas in the day, you try to get people in and they’re leery, they don’t want to come in, they don’t want to get involved. I think with this stuff now, it’s a lot easier for people to get involved but stay out if they feel that way.”
If nothing else, it’s a new approach to crime fighting that the department will no doubt get a lot of use of going forward.
“This is just another means of getting that last piece of the puzzle that we need to solve this,” Flanagan said.
For more information on the John Phillips Facebook page, turn to https://www.facebook.com/johnphillipsnk .