If you know me, you know I am a big fan of our local Sheriff here in Polk County. I served on his citizens advisory council for a year and saw the inner-workings of the department in a way that really solidified my respect for how it is run.
I’m not on the council anymore, but I do keep up with them on Facebook and like some of the new ways they are using social media. Of course if you visit their fan page, you see the usual press releases and photos. There for a while, they were posting a “Criminal of the day” thread. I don’t know how effective that was for them, but with over 11,000 facebook fans, I think it would be a good practice to continue.
When I did my ride-along with a Polk County deputy, I was amazed at the number of stories where they bust people running drugs over a simple headlight or tail light out. The night I was with the deputy, we arrested 2 different people for failure to appear in court just because of the same thing. You would think that if you were a fugitive, you would make sure your vehicle is in order before driving.
Apparently, stupid criminals have now learned to use social media. And they like to brag about things. Couple that with a law enforcement agency that “gets” technology and you have a whole new way of proactive policing.
Here are a couple of examples:
- A man in Evansville, IN was arrested after posting a photo of himself with a sawed-off shotgun. Aside from the fact the gun itself was illegal, the guy was a convicted felon to boot. How the the cops find this? Investigating complaints of noise and drugs in his apartment, they looked him up online.
- In Alabama, police were tipped off about a man’s Facebook post saying he wanted to blow up a police station. While he later claimed that post was a joke, the cops did a simple background check & learned he was on probation. His probation officer paid him a little surprise visit and found a stash of child porn. I doubt he will be out again for a while.
Criminals, law enforcement and social trends
In an article in The Washington Post, some in law enforcement believe that even career criminals follow the same trends we all do. Fortunately, many of them post to social media before firing up their brain and they make their own cases against themselves.
In fact, most progressive law enforcement agencies now have a dedicated staff that monitors various social media platforms for criminal activity – or clues that lead to it. Things like photos showing child neglect, underage drinking, illegal weapons and association with known criminals are the most common, but it could be just a monitor on a wanted fugitive that alerts them when he updates his “current city”.
So if you’re a criminal, here’s some advice: Become more Anti-Social. Even if your local police haven’t found the right social media tools to discover you yet, if you keep posting updates to Facebook, MySpace or Twitter, it’s just a matter of time.
And to the law enforcement agencies that are using the Internet as a tool: Thank you for embracing technology and finding new ways to protect us.