Credit Bryan Tarnowski for The New York Times
SEATTLE â Anthony Posey said it had taken all of two minutes, maybe three, until he realized he had left his camera in a fourth-floor menâs room at the downtown Seattle Public Library on Oct. 15. He ran back in, but the room was empty and the camera gone, along with more than 1,700 images â including wedding photographs that Mr. Posey, a professional photographer and real estate agent in New Orleans, had shot for a client.
The story might have ended there: another unsolvable petty property crime. Mr. Posey, who thought of his camera, a Sony Alpha 37, as more lost than stolen, did not file a police report. He and his wife, Crystal Craddock-Posey â after celebrating her 50th birthday here â flew home to Louisiana. Mr. Posey, 51, posted an ad on Craigslist for a âlostâ camera and went on with his life.
âWe wrote it off,â he said.
But the Seattle Police Department, which had recovered a stolen camera in an undercover street buy, was not ready to do that, for a complicated set of reasons.
Credit Seattle Police Department
The department has been operating under an independent monitor since 2012, after the Justice Department found a pattern of excessive force. Part of the monitorâs recipe for rebuilding trust with the community has been to get Seattle residents more involved in what the police are doing.
As part of its public-relations effort, the department now uses Twitter to share police reports with the public, and a crime blotter blog on the forceâs website includes eye-catching entries by a former reporter for an alternative newspaper who was hired by the police to convey accessibility and streetwise cool. (A sample headline: âMachete-Wielding Man Flees Womenâs Bathroom, Gets Stuck in Traffic.â)
And with violent crime down, property offenses that could not have been pursued a few years ago can now receive a detectiveâs time and attention. So a detective wrote a posting about the recovered camera on Nextdoor.com, a social network on which members can post about everything from yard care to public safety in their neighborhoods. To help find the cameraâs owner, the detective included one of Mr. Poseyâs images, of a couple dancing in a drapery-festooned ballroom, in the Nextdoor posting.
âWhen people see a camera that has wedding pictures on it, they inherently want to help,â said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a police spokesman.
On Oct. 22, a Nextdoor member in northwest Seattle responded that he had seen a Craigslist ad that looked pretty similar to what the detective had described.
âSomeone took it upon themselves to actually connect the dots between a Craigslist ad about a camera and our Nextdoor posting about a wedding photo,â Sergeant Whitcomb said. âThat wouldnât have happened a few years ago.â
(The police had in the meantime found some identifying information inside the camera, so Mr. Posey would probably have gotten it back in any case. But the Craigslist ad tip, they said, came out of the blue.)
Mr. Posey said in a telephone interview that what was important to him was not the camera at all â he often carries around three, and the Sony was a few years old â but the images he thought he had lost. While most of the wedding photographs had already been delivered to the clients, most of the 1,500 or so pictures on the camera were personal, from the coupleâs trip to Seattle.
âItâs the emotional aspect thatâs important, not the monetary,â he said.
And however it came about, the idea that Seattle residents had stepped up to help him, he said, made the vacation here feel even more special in retrospect.
âWeâre all in this together â thatâs what it says to me,â Mr. Posey said. âIâm more in love with Seattle than ever.â