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Social Networking and Law Enforcement

Discover How Police Are Using Social Media to Solve Crimes and Build Trust

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Facebook can be both a blessing and a curse in a job search. Copyright 2011 Tim Roufa

Tim Roufa
From Facebook to twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn, social media is changing the way business is done across the professional spectrum.  This 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.

Using Social Media to Solve Crime

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

The fact is, Facebook is helping to catch criminals.  Sometimes, police are able to get tips from suspects' "friends" after the suspect inevitably brags about his deviant behavior on the social networking site.  Other times, detectives can gather evidence from pictures or video posted on sites like MySpace 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 actives are subject to scrutiny.  This means that cops can use social media sites to gather valuable intelligence on suspected criminals.

Finding People Who Need Help through New Media

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.

Using Social Networking for Community Outreach

An important step toward solving 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 officer's 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.

The Use of Social Media in Hiring Decisions

Of course, in order 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 and MySpace 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 him login to his 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 are able to gain access to information and colleagues from across the country and around the world.  This has encouraged new discussions on officer tactics and techniques and has helped to increase the spread of new ideas throughout law enforcement agencies.

Law Enforcement Makes Social Networking Work 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 has 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.

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