Social media is used globally by billions of people for keeping in touch with friends, getting the news, advertising, and many other purposes. Law enforcement too is making the best use of this fairly recent technology.
One example is with this Princeton Police Department in West Virginia, which relies on social media as a tool for not only catching bad guys, but deterring criminal behavior in the first place.
“Social media has been very crucial as we go on with law enforcement and the tools that we use,” said Lt. Jeremy Halsey. “Ultimately, you’re going to have people that are still going to commit crimes regardless, it’s just the fear of repercussion is not there as much, but ultimately I like to think it does make a difference.”
Lt. Halsey pointed to the importance of social media for gathering data during investigations, getting to know more about a victim or suspects’ appearance and lifestyle, as well as helping to solve missing persons cases.
In the past few years, there have been many cases of individuals exposing their crimes for all to see on social media, which have helped police track them down and issue warrants.
In 2016, a Florida teen was arrested on 142 felony charges after authorities found selfies on social media with wads of cash, drugs and guns. After obtaining a search warrant, police found $250,000 dollars’ worth of stolen jewellery, electronics and firearms. The suspect was believed to be a ringleader of a group responsible for 40 burglaries in Palm Beach County, Florida.
In other instances, a woman live-streamed her drunk driving, which led to one viewer calling 9-1-1 and her subsequent arrest. Crime sprees have also been documented on the app Snapchat.
A CNN report revealed that law enforcement officers often go undercover on Facebook, even sometimes befriending suspects to get a glimpse into private, “friends-only” information.
In fact, CNN cited a study based on data gathered by LexisNexis Risk Solutions on 1,221 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and found that every four out of five officers had used social media to gather intelligence during investigations. Half said they checked social media at least once a week, and the majority said social media helps them solve crimes faster.
Despite social media’s widespread use in solving crimes, only 10% of officers said they had received any formal training on “how” to use the technology. Police and courts are also catching up with how Fourth Amendment privacy rights factor into the equation.