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Social media play a ‘significant and growing’ role in law enforcement

Which region uses
social media most?

LexisNexis Risk Solutions announced on July 18 the results of a comprehensive survey focused on the impact of social media on law enforcement in criminal investigations.

The survey revealed that currently four out of five respondents use various social media platforms to assist in investigations and found agencies serving smaller populations and with fewer sworn personnel (less than 50) use social media more, while state agencies tend to use it less (71%) than local (82%) and federal (81%) agencies.

The research also found that identifying people and locations; discovering criminal activity and locations; and gathering evidence are the top activities, while Facebook and YouTube are the most widely used platforms. 

  • 67% believe social media helps solve crimes more quickly;
  • 87% of the time, search warrants utilizing social media to establish probable cause hold up in court when challenged, according to respondents;
  • Close to 50% of respondents use social media at least weekly;
  • Only 10% of respondents learned how to use social media for investigations through formal training given at the agency;
  • Lack of access and familiarity are primary reasons for non-use -- 70% are either unable to access social media during work hours, or do not have enough background to use.

The survey also generated anecdotal use cases. One law enforcement officer indicated that social media provided information on a terroristic threat involving students in a local high school.  Further investigation, which utilized Facebook, revealed that the threats were credible and the law enforcement agency conducted follow-up investigations which revealed a student’s intent to harm others. The student was in the process of attempting to acquire weapons. The agenhcy believes it avoided a “Columbine” type scenario.

“As a former crime analyst for the San Diego Police Department and the FBI, I understand the value social media provides in terms of crime prevention and investigation,” said Samantha Gwinn, a government solutions consultant with LexisNexis. “As officers start to secure more formal training and gain an increased comfort level in the power of social media, the value it provides will continue to rise.” 

The research conducted in March 2012 assessed the law enforcement community’s understanding of, proclivity to use, and actual use of social media. It aimed to better understand acceptability thresholds of various types of investigative techniques and current resources and processes being used.

According to the survey, 83% of current users anticipate using social media more, while 74% of those not currently using it indicated they intend to start using it.

Sponsored by LexisNexis, the nationwide survey was conducted online and solicited feedback from more than 1,200 participants at every level of law enforcement -- from rural localities to major metropolitan cities to federal agencies -- producing a comprehensive view of the social media landscape. Respondents are active law enforcement professionals ranging in age, experience and job level.