Police Make Wide Use Of Social Tools - InformationWeek
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Police Make Wide Use Of Social Tools

Majority of law enforcement professionals turn to Facebook and YouTube to aid their investigations, research shows.

Top 14 Government Social Media Initiatives
Top 14 Government Social Media Initiatives
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Law enforcement agencies across the nation are using social media to aid their investigations, according to a survey by LexisNexis Risk Solutions.

The survey, of more than 1,200 law enforcement professionals with federal, state, and local agencies, found that 83% of the respondents are using social media, particularly Facebook and YouTube, to further their investigations. And of those not doing so, 74% intend to start using social media as a tool within the next year, which would raise the usage rate to about 95%.

More than two-thirds (67%) of respondents believe that social media helps solve crimes more quickly. The most common uses of social media among those who do it include identifying persons of interest (85%) and their associates (75%), identifying criminal activity (76%) and its location (66%), and gathering photos or statements as corroborating evidence (61%).

Less common is the use of social media to provide evidence to justify search warrants; just 23% of survey respondents had done so. But when social media was used in that way, evidence held up in court 87% of the time, they said.

[ Learn more about how law enforcement believes social media will help its investigations. See FBI Seeks Data-Mining App for Social Media. ]

"Investigation and analysis of social media content provides a huge opportunity in terms of crime prevention and offender apprehension," Samantha Gwinn, an experienced crime analyst with local and federal law enforcement agencies and now a government solutions consultant for LexisNexis Risk Solutions, said in a statement. "As law enforcement personnel continue to participate in formal training and gain an increased comfort level with the power and scope of social media, as well as its limitations, the value it provides will continue to rise."

Law enforcement professionals in the Northeast reported the highest use of social media, at 89%, while the South showed the lowest use, 77%. Respondents in the Midwest (83%) and West (81%) fell between that range.

Federal and local law enforcement agents were most likely to use social media in their work (81% and 82%, respectively). State agencies lag behind at 71%. Those in supervisory positions were slightly more likely to use social media for investigative purposes (85%) than rank-and-file officers (79%).

Law enforcement agencies in smaller cities with fewer officers use social media more often. In cities with populations under 50,000, 86% of respondents use social media, while in cities with more than 100,000, usage dropped to 78%.

The emergence of social media as an investigative tool has been more by happenstance than intent. Eighty percent of users are self-taught. They do that by jumping in and navigating social media sites (70%), applying lessons learned in their personal lives (45%), collaborating with colleagues (45%), or attending law enforcement seminars and conferences on the topic (19%). Only 10% of respondents said they have received formal training in how to use social media in investigations.

The survey didn't address privacy issues or policies that come into play as law enforcement officers look to Facebook and other social sites as part of their investigations. Earlier this year, officials from the Department of Homeland Security were called before Congress to answer questions about a DHS program that monitors keywords in social media for disaster preparedness and response and to reassure lawmakers that the program stayed within the bounds of the law.

Every company needs a social networking policy, but don't stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality. Also in the debut, all-digital Social Media For Grownups issue of The BrainYard: The proper tools help in setting social networking policy for your company and ensure that you'll be able to follow through. (Free with registration.)

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Andrew Hornback
Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/26/2012 | 2:31:24 AM
re: Police Make Wide Use Of Social Tools
For some criminal types, this is like giving law enforcement the opportuity to shoot fish in a rain barrel.

One example that comes to mind - father and son duo decide they want to show off their marijuana plants and drum up business, so they post pictures of 20+ foot tall plants to Facebook. A few hours later, three sheriff's deputies and a K-9 unit are apprehending and confiscating.

People with limited knowledge or understanding of social media (or the Internet in general, for that matter), simply don't understand that once something goes digital, it becomes permanent. Someone somewhere is listening, watching, recording, collecting, searching, sifting, backing up...

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
User Rank: Apprentice
7/20/2012 | 6:29:03 PM
re: Police Make Wide Use Of Social Tools
It is no surprise that law enforcement is using social tools to help with and assist in investigations. Take for example the kid who took a pic himself standing in the lettuce bins at Burger King, he was literally found within minutes due to the fact that he posted the picture on Facebook and secondly he uploaded the picture from his phone which also uploaded his GPS coordinates. Caught! I suppose even with as much news and people getting caught plastered all over from Burger King to people planking law enforcement vehicles there are still going to be people who just donG«÷t consider the affect it will have once it is placed on the web for the world to see.
The law enforcement is just utilizing all of its resources and if a person commits a crime and decides they want to share it with the world that is what they are doing sharing with the world! The statistics are a bit higher than I would have guessed. You have to wonder how many law enforcement officers make these discoveries while surfing their own social media sites. It is good that Homeland Security is aware that official are using it for investigations and preparing for privacy issues and not just blatantly ignoring the fact. I would be more aware of what I post and share if I am going to break the law!

Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor
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