Technology has changed how police officers do their jobs in ways big and small, and for the most part this is a good thing. The more technology that is available to law enforcement officers, the more likely it is that they (along with the community at large) will be able to catch a criminal.
One example of how the police of today use technology: when was the last time you noticed a “Wanted” poster hung up around town? Probably a while. Because it’s not really done.
What are cops doing? In many cases, suspect information and surveillance videos are simply posted on Facebook. And it’s working.
Facebook: Taking Crime-stopping to the People
Kincaid, Illinois is a small town in the middle of our state, about a three-hour drive from Chicago. In early January, the town’s Kincaid Diner was robbed. The glass in the front window was busted and the cash register was completely removed.
A similar crime had also been committed multiple times at the Phillips 66 gas station across the street. Police had a surveillance video of the crime, but it was hard to identify the man in the video and make a proper arrest.
So they went to Facebook.
The Kincaid Police Department put the surveillance video online and within a few days, the video was viewed 11,000 times and had generated 50 tips. To put that in perspective, Kincaid only has a population of around 1,500 – it’s a small community. Using those tips, the Kincaid Police were able to take 35-year-old Robert Burke into custody for the burglary.
To Catch A Criminal… On Facebook
The police department in Kincaid said that Facebook has become the most convenient way for police to catch burglars. Shockingly, about half of all burglary arrests come from tips over social media.
Police departments all over – not just in Kincaid, or even Illinois – have been embracing social media as a crime-fighting and criminal-catching tool. There are many strategies used by law enforcement to nail suspects online, including:
- Posting surveillance videos or police drawings online and asking the public for tips or information
- Creating fake accounts to add suspects on Facebook and look for possible evidence
- Creating databases of information when large groups of suspects (i.e. gangs) are involved. Information may include phone numbers, public disputes between suspects, and so on.
Even if a surveillance video is not used to initially arrest a person, social media may serve as evidence in a trial. It’s not just burglary, either. Social media has been used as evidence in cases ranging from burglary to murder to DUI.
In 2012, for example, a Philadelphia blogger was charged with two counts of criminal solicitation to commit murder, three counts of terrorist threats, and three counts of harassment. In court, prosecutors used Facebook pages that he created to encourage the murder of police officials, as well as a page called “Kill Mitt Romney.”
What This Means for You
After an individual is indicted, their defense attorney, as well as the prosecution, will be able to collect evidence to be used in a trial. If you have been charged with a crime and your criminal defense lawyer is beginning to collect evidence, do not hide your social media profile from them.
Instead, let your lawyer know what information exists on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media accounts. Give them full access so they may advise you on what to do with your accounts, and prepare for the prosecution to bring up social media posts that could incriminate you.
Also, don’t think that prosecutors can’t access your accounts because your profile is private. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors are smarter than you might think. Do let your lawyer know how private your accounts are, though, because prosecutors may obtain social media information unlawfully.
If you have been charged with a crime and believe that social media may play a role, get in touch with our office immediately to talk about your options.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, murder, and drug crimes.