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Law enforcement officer: Twitter is the new police scanner

Three out of four law enforcement professionals are using social media for crime investigation and prevention, according to two police officers who spoke at the recent GovSec conference in Washington. Further, 87% of the time social media, when used as a probable cause for a search warrant holds up in court, and 67% of people believe information obtained via social media can help solve investigations more quickly, they said. Social media may be one of the best modern tools to improve police work.

Using social media can help indicate potential areas of concern, generate leads and enhance the witness pool during investigations. It can also add a virtual dimension to traditional public records data to verify identities, uncover associations and generate a comprehensive view of an individual for investigative purposes.

“One quote out there is that Twitter is seen as the new police scanner,” said Jamie Roush, crime analysis unit manager at the Jacksonville (FL) Sheriff’s Office.

In one recent case in Jacksonville, Roush, who was monitoring Twitter, saw Tweets about a shooting at a mall. Only after a little while, she said, did she get a ring from her traditional police scanner, saying the shooting had occurred.

Currently, many police departments use social media to get information out to the public, she said. Many companies push out their message, and “in law enforcement we must do brand marketing as well.”

But police departments should be more proactive, said Rick Graham, chief of detectives (ret.), Jacksonville, FL Sheriff’s Office and current law enforcement liaison at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. It’s time to “jump into the proactive piece” of social media. “We do a pretty good job in law enforcement solving crimes after the fact. But what about the proactive -- the preemptive strike. Do you have 150 officers to infiltrate different locations and have the intel analyzed after the fact. I don’t think so.” Social media offers an opportunity to hear what people are saying, and what they may do, he said. It’s all open source, he added. You’re “not sabotaging people’s privacy. They’re throwing it out there.”

Choosing keywords in the search process is important, says Roush. In Jacksonville there are alternate terms for the city, including “Jacks” and “Jacks and Jill.” The county’s name, Duval, is also used as a search term. The police department often throws in search terms for some of the area’s many schools, parks, and other significant locations, Roush said. “Unless law enforcement gets on board…with social media then we are truly missing the boat.”


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