No matter what you may think of the police, theirs is one of the toughest jobs around and it seems to be getting even tougher to keep the peace these days. Law enforcement has to use whatever tools are available to help them with that task and the latest technology has always been a big part of their arsenal. So it comes as no surprise that social media would get added to the mix, with police staking out your favorite virtual networks in an effort to curb crime in real life.
The city of Pottstown, a small Philadelphia suburb, made headlines recently for using a “Wanted by Police” Pinterest board to display mug shots of wanted criminals in that area. Information such as name, age, and last known address was listed, and charges ranged from forgery to murder. Police in that area have seen a dramatic 57% surge in the number of arrests since the page started. Pottstown police Captain F. Richard Drumheiler noted that public involvement was critical to the increase and some people actually turned themselves in when they saw their picture on the Pinterest board. The idea was so successful that the City of Philadelphia police department has followed suit, creating a board of their own.
But Pinterest isn’t the only social network police are scoping out. By far the most popular way in which law enforcement takes advantage of social media is through the use of Facebook. Using data mining techniques, police can put together small bits of information and come up with enough evidence to make an arrest. They’ve even gone undercover on the site to friend potential suspects and their accomplices in an effort to gain access to personal information. And if you think your Facebook information can’t be used against you, think again. A judge recently ruled that police can use your info if any of your friends gives it to them, or if you give up the goods yourself by friending an undercover officer. And while you think your Facebook privacy settings are locked tight, anything you share on someone else’s public page is also subject to be used against you if necessary. YouTube is another tool law enforcement is using with much success. Posting surveillance video of crimes taking place can garner a flood of comments with tips that help police make arrests. Twitter is being used in much the same way, with officers following suspected criminals or police departments getting tweets to their own accounts with information about crimes that have happened or are about to take place.
According to an online survey of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, four out of five said they use social media to help with criminal investigations. That number is only going to grow as departments get more tech savvy and people continue to share information online. So if someone’s sharing information about illegal activity online, there’s now a good chance that they won’t get away with it.
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