Law Enforcement Turns to Social Media

By Tracey Dowdy

You and your kids aren’t the only ones using social media. More and more often, law enforcement is turning to apps like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter to fight crime in the communities they serve.

Recently, police in Bridgend, Wales used a fingerprint pulled from a WhatsApp photo to identify drug traffickers. The photo, when added to further evidence the police had gathered, led to the conviction of eleven drug traffickers.

The photo was discovered when police raided a home after receiving a tip about possible drug-related activity at the address. According to Dave Thomas of the South Wales Police, the phone turned out to be a valuable resource. “It had a number of texts such as, ‘What do you want to buy?’ on it. There was then the photograph of the hand holding pills that seemed like it was sent to potential customers saying, ‘These are my wares, I’m selling these.’”

Police have been utilizing social media in their investigations for years. Back in 2012, self-proclaimed criminal mastermind James Tindall used his Facebook page to berate Judge Eric J. Bloch. Keep in mind, this is the same judge who had shown mercy and offered Tindall probation rather than prison time during his 2010 robbery trial. Tindall even goaded his probation officer Todd Roberts posting, “Fresh out of another state,” “Catch me if you can,” and “I’m in Alabama.” Because Roberts was monitoring Tindall’s social media, he noticed the posts along with a sonogram photo of Tindall’s unborn son that included the name of the hospital. Soon after, Tindall was stopped for speeding. When the officer ran his driver’s license, he discovered the warrant and Tindall was arrested.

According to research by the  International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Urban Institute, law enforcement is increasingly active on social media.

  • 90% use social media to notify the public of safety concerns
  • 89% for community outreach
  • 86% use it for public relation and reputation management
  • 59% have contacted a social media company to obtain information to be used as evidence
  • 58% use it for recruiting and vetting new applicants

The report says, “Social media has the potential to help agencies manage their own reputation and contact community members directly to bolster community-police relations.”

Sheriff John Tharp from the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office outside Toledo, Ohio says it’s also an effective tool in building morale within a department. “By acknowledging employees or people who help the agency on social media, it makes them feel appreciated.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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