How Law Enforcement Employs Social Media Monitoring Tools

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From Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn, social media is making an impact on the way business is done across the professional spectrum. It is particularly evident in the areas of criminology and criminal justice, where law enforcement officers and researchers alike are finding new and unique ways to put social networking to use, both to solve crimes and hire candidates.

Solving Crimes

Believe it or not, social networking is providing officers new avenues and tools to help solve crimes. Because so many people now have such large online presences, investigators can gain new tips and insights into crimes committed in their communities.

The fact is, Facebook is helping to catch criminals. Sometimes, police can get tips from suspects' "friends" after the suspect inevitably brags about their deviant behavior on the social networking site. Other times, detectives can gather evidence from pictures or videos posted on sites like Instagram and YouTube.

Even more valuable, though, is the ability to track and gain insight into a suspect's mentality, simply by monitoring their posts. Because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy when you willingly post online, all of these activities are subject to scrutiny. It means that cops can use social media sites to gather valuable intelligence on suspected criminals.

Beginning in 2010 the International Association of Chief of Police (IACP) and partners like the U.S. Department of Justice launched the IACP Center for Social Media. This initiative helps law enforcement agencies across the country to build and use social media programs to enhance effective policing.

Finding People Who Need Help

Not only can police use social media to solve crimes, but they can also use it to help find missing, endangered or distressed people. What people post on their sites can often provide helpful insight into their state of mind and their intentions.

Social media can also give law enforcement officers important clues as to where runaways or people who are in distress may be headed. By looking at friends lists, 'likes,' posts and comments, police can establish a reasonable idea of their plans.

Community Outreach

An important step toward solving a crime is establishing trust in the community. A new way police are able to accomplish that goal is by creating an online presence of their own. Social media outlets take community-oriented policing to a new level by providing quick, cheap, and easy ways to get important information out to followers and concerned citizens.

Social media also provides an avenue to help humanize police departments and show that law enforcement officers are also members of the community they serve. Social media can be an effective way for agencies to highlight their officers' accomplishments, make announcements regarding enforcement campaigns, and provide messages about safety. 

It can also be used to ask followers for tips on crimes or provide important warnings or alerts regarding missing children or suspected criminals who may be on the loose.

Hiring Decisions

Of course, to solve crimes and maintain trust in the community, agencies have to make sure they have the right people working for them. Law enforcement agencies have long conducted extensive and thorough background investigations on their job applicants. Sites like Facebook have allowed background investigators to gain new and valuable insight into the character of their law enforcement candidates.

Job applicants for law enforcement and other sensitive positions would be well advised to clean up their social networking pages in advance, even before applying. During the application process, many departments will have an investigator sit down with the applicant and have them log into their Facebook page. 

He'll be asked to scroll through all of his photos, friends, and posts. Anything that appears illegal or that could embarrass the department can easily get the candidate disqualified from participating further in the process.

Sharing Techniques and Tactics

It's not all about crime-solving, though. Through professional networking sites like LinkedIn, agencies and officers can gain access to information and colleagues from across the country and around the world. It has encouraged new discussions on officer tactics and techniques and has helped to increase the spread of new ideas throughout law enforcement agencies.

Working for Us All

Through better communication with colleges and the community, law enforcement is finding more and more ways to put the social networking phenomenon to use in applications that serve us all. 

Criminal justice and criminology have evolved over the centuries. The use of social networking in police work is just one more example of how police agencies continue to adapt to changes in society and technology.