Law enforcement agencies at every level are using social media, not for gossiping with co-workers, but for solving real-world crimes. It only makes sense that as the real world goes viral, so does law enforcement. Most officers claim to be self-taught when it comes to using social media as a partner but as the trend shows promise, officers are being properly trained by those in the know. Here are five ways that social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are keeping Joe Public safe from the bad guys:
1. Surveillance Video
It’s not unusual for gas stations, hotels, restaurants and stores to have video surveillance systems installed to protect them against crime. Unfortunately, while these videos were useful at trial, they were of little use when it came to actually catching the criminal, thanks to the limited ability to allow public viewing of the footage. Today, with sites like YouTube and Facebook, surveillance videos can be posted for thousands of people to see, often leading to the quick arrest and detention of the suspect.
2. Still Photos
Earlier this year, a six-year-old girl in Pennsylvania was kidnapped while walking to a local grocery market. After detectives posted the suspect’s photo on Facebook and tweeted his image to the public, it took only 16 minutes for the suspect to be taken into custody. This story isn’t a unique one; the ability to post and send photos to the public in a rapid manner has led to the capture of hundreds of suspects across the nation.
3. Tip Submission
As more law enforcement agencies are making their presence known on social media channels, the general public is providing more tips than ever before. Whether it’s due to the perceived anonymity of the Internet, or another reason, the average Joe is more apt to leave a tip online than he is to call or visit the police station.
Police across the country are launching mobile versions of their websites, providing the public with departmental information at the touch of a finger. Users can look at photos, read about unsolved crimes and submit anonymous tips to help catch criminals. Police departments can also use apps to alert the public to road closings, accidents, widespread power outages, criminals at large and other information deemed to factor into public safety.
At times, the police only have to sit back and wait for criminals to come to them. It’s not unusual for a criminal to boast on their Facebook wall of their supposed accomplishments. Hundreds of law breakers have been caught simply because they couldn’t stop themselves from bragging of their escapades across social media sites. Once caught, these postings make excellent evidence in court proceedings, virtually guaranteeing that the offenders are properly punished.
As the world changes, law enforcement agencies have to change with it if they hope to keep the general public safe from the criminal element. A greater than average number of law enforcement agencies, from local police departments to the FBI, are utilizing social media in new ways every day. If you are interested in finding out how your local agency is utilizing social media, stop by the department and find out; you may be surprised at how modern crime fighting in your area has become.
Eryn Green is a full-time writer for higher ed blogs and journals nationwide with a focus on online education opportunities. Several schools offer online masters in criminal justice, including Portland State University and Western Oregon University.