How Cops Use Social Media, SMS to Fight Crime

Posted by chad on Fri, 04/06/2012 - 15:30
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shutterstock_police_crime_scene.jpgA limited study of 50 convicted burglars in the U.K. reveals what most of us knew already: if you tweet or post a Facebook status about your vacation in Cancun, a criminal in your hometown may target your house for a break-in. He or she may even use Google Street View to case the joint.

But law enforcement is fighting back, solving crimes using the same social media that makes it easy for people to become victims. The Boston Globe reports in today's editions that the Boston Police Department has had "amazing" results with its use of social media and its Text-A-Tip campaigns.


One of the biggest lessons for cops on social media? Try not to sound like cops.

"We're police; we like to tell people things and sound very official,'' BPD spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll told the newspaper. "But we realized it might be a good idea to be less formal, to use less police-speak.''

That has meant the department has taken a more casual tone in its blog posts and on its Twitter feed, which The Globe reports has more Twitter followers than any other local law enforcement agency in the U.S. In addition to hash-tag campaigns such as #MostWantedMonday, police in the Hub are using a simple SMS program that allows people to make anonymous tips about unsolved crimes with a simple text message.

"I have two daughters; they're 15 and 13,'' said Officer Michael Charbonnier, program director of the department's Crime Stoppers Unit. "Everything for them is Facebook and texting. Even my son tells me, 'Why do you still email? That's so old-fashioned.'"

Of course, the law enforcement rush to social media isn't sitting well with targets, privacy groups or the social networks themselves. In addition to concerns about how federal agencies such as the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have been monitoring social networks, the BPD has had its own run-ins, including a highly publicized case in which Twitter ignored a request to keep an investigation of Occupy Boston protesters under wraps.

"The concept that the government would somehow be monitoring and storing inquiries of individual Web activities - many would find that disconcerting," Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, told Politico. "We're still concerned about who actually was directing the investigators to make specific inquiries."

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.