Social media is providing a wealth of information to law enforcement officials. Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew was quoted in the Sioux City Journal as saying it has become common for victims of crime to describe their situation on Facebook even before reporting it to police. However, Facebook has also helped break cases since criminals tend to incriminate themselves through posts on social media.
This was the case for an Iowa man who was thought to be impersonating an officer earlier this year. The victims described the situation on Facebook rather than informing the police, which made the information publicly available even before the police released any information on the case.
Drew pointed out that there are drawbacks to having crimes posted on social media—that it could alert a potential suspect that officers are onto him or her. Still – this Sheriff feels that positive uses for Facebook by law enforcement officers outweigh the risks.
Social media played a prominent role in the capture of one of the terrorists who planned to kill large numbers of soldiers at an Illinois military installation earlier this year. An undercover investigator was able to friend one of the terrorists on Facebook and find out about his Jihadist plans in time to thwart the plot and arrest the would-be terrorist.
Social media also allows law enforcement officers to easily communicate with the public. Twitter in particular enables them to instantly respond to queries from public citizens. It also lets law enforcement stay ahead of false tips or online rumors.
Social media is very effective at augmenting community policing, too. It enables officers to stay in close touch with members of the local public and lets them interact with law enforcement in a positive manner. Sioux City Police Department Officer Chad Sheehan said that it lets his department “work with the community rather than against the community.”
With cybersecurity becoming an issue of global importance, it is heartening to know that current Internet technology is providing benefits to law enforcement agencies.