Fighting “Perps” with Twitter and Facebook

We saw a story on the national TV news recently that piqued our interest. It was about an older woman who was meandering through restaurants and stealing women’s purses while they were eating. The women had no idea their purses were stolen until the “perp” was long gone. Fortunately, the restaurant had surveillance cameras and a clear image of the perpetrator was captured. That’s part of the value of the surveillance system.

The restaurant turned the video evidence over to police who then posted her picture on their Facebook page asking for the public’s help in identifying the perp. Two hours later they had a positive ID. Wow!

That is part of the value of social media to law enforcement in catching criminals.

In a recent story on NBC nightly news, Pete Williams, who did the story, reported that 90% of the nation’s law enforcement agencies use social media for crime lead generation for a wide variety of crimes that they post online.

There was a story in USA Today last month about how a surveillance camera captured an image of a criminal who broke into and ransacked a car. The homeowner had no clue who did it, but he posted it on his Facebook page. Sure enough, that led to an arrest.

There was another story by Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee who covers a gamut of news in the technology field. The story was how law enforcement agencies are beginning to use social media as a law enforcement tool to not only catch crooks and but also change their methods of policing to embrace the new technology.

Law enforcement agencies are beginning to not only use social media to catch crooks, but also to change their ways of policing worldwide in response to social behavior. Lee made the point that instead of calling 911 to report a crime people use their technology gadgets such as smartphones to take pictures or video of what they are seeing and “tweet” it to their friends or post it on their Facebook page.

This causes law enforcement agencies to go to Twitter, Facebook, and even YouTube to get information on crimes before they are even reported

It has meant that law enforcement organizations have had to up their game when sourcing information, going to Twitter and other social networks to find information before it gets reported. Law enforcement first identifies topics or keywords that may be of significant interest as a way of detecting trending topics.

“These can be formed into rules and set to trigger an alert if movement on a particular topic exceeds a certain pattern.”

If people are reporting crimes using social media, law enforcement has to tap into that resource. Nearly every law enforcement agency has a Facebook page anyhow. Once they have a picture of the suspect, they can run it through their facial recognition programs to get their name. That’s quite a change in a way police work is done.

The Boston Marathon bombing is a good example of what we’re talking about. The Boston Police Department already had a good relationship built up through social networking in their community so when they asked for the public’s help they were almost overwhelmed with the response.

But don’t get the idea that it’s just law enforcement that uses social media to track down crooks. Homeowners who have surveillance cameras can turn that video into a tool to post on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. Time and time again, the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Once they have a name they turned it over to the police for apprehension.

Statistics show that if there is a video involved, in a home burglary, for example, the chances of catching the crook improve by over 50%. Crime fighting going viral?

Have you used social media to help catch a criminal? Please share your experience. We want to hear your thoughts.