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Fighting Crime With Facebook 71

Posted by samzenpus
from the playing-policeville dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Demond Fernandez writes that Facebook has become a hot, new crime fighting tool for police in Conroe, Texas. Sergeant Joe Smart says Conroe police have been using its Facebook page to profile suspects and criminals since May — like a woman accused of stealing credit cards, masked gunmen caught on tape burglarizing a local store and a suspected computer thief, who the department's Facebook friends just helped police catch. 'It works. The witnesses are looking at it and they are giving us information,' says Smart. Police say Facebook friends in Conroe already helped them catch two wanted suspects and gather leads on several other open cases. Apparently the idea of using facebook to catch criminals is getting picked up in other places as the Toronto Police Service announced their goal is to have about 175 officers with online profiles by early November. 'We've prevented some pretty serious incidents simply because people reached out to the few police officers that were using social media,' says Constable Scott Mills, the force's social media officer. 'This is going to lead to a lot more trust and a lot more transparency.'"
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Fighting Crime With Facebook

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  • Contacting people (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @07:03PM (#36902312)
    Looks like "walking the beat" and being in contact with people matters. Who would have thought?
    • All I know is I had the batman theme tune going through my head while reading the summary.

      Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-batmaaaaan!

    • One would imagine this is in many ways more helpful than walking the beat in certain communities--someone who works in another community may get more familiarity with police where he lives this way, for example. Similarly, people who don't get in trouble with (and therefore know) the police will get to know them better, if it is done well.

      The problem, of course, is that over-regulation of it will take away some of the openness of it, but it still could be a good thing.

      Towns could also use social networking

    • by Benaiah (851593)

      So far the police (in Western Australia) only use social media as a one way propaganda soap box where they spew the latest releases from the media department.
      There is no SMS number to report an accident, a speeding driver, something easier then going into the police station and filling out a bunch of forms just to say this guy threw a cigarette butt out of their window.

      I think using social media is at least a step in the right direction allowing a conversation to take place between the people and the state.

  • With all the idiots they're chasing after on facebook, how many of the criminals who don't use facebook will go un-caught? Seems like an invasion of personal privacy and waste of tax dollars, IMHO.

    They should stop trying to filter every little online program and just do the actual work. I'm sure that a majority of these "criminals" are just underage kids drinking or smoking pot and then uploading pictures to facebook, and there's no point in trying to go after them, kids are stupid, and they'll likely do wh

    • Re:I wonder.... (Score:5, Informative)

      by m2vq (2417438) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @07:18PM (#36902414)
      They aren't filtering anything or violating personal privacy. They're posting information and pictures on their page so that people can visit it (or see updates on their facebook status updates) and leave information if they know something about it. This all has been possible and done before, but now they're just using tools that are more accessible and relevant in the current generation. It's refreshing and good to see, actually.
      • Re:I wonder.... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by NFN_NLN (633283) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @08:18PM (#36902848)

        They aren't filtering anything or violating personal privacy. They're posting information and pictures on their page so that people can visit it (or see updates on their facebook status updates) and leave information if they know something about it. This all has been possible and done before, but now they're just using tools that are more accessible and relevant in the current generation. It's refreshing and good to see, actually.

        So Facebook is a success.

        The CIA tried creating a database of people but found the manpower far to expensive to be feasible. The only way was to crowd source the work. If they could trick 'idiots' into updating their own profile, law enforcement wouldn't have to work as hard to find information, and it would be virtually free. Welcome to Facebook, any governments wet dream.

        • by m2vq (2417438)
          What part of the summary, article or my post did you not understand? This is similar to newspapers posting information about crimes and maybe some relevant pictures and asking public for tips. It has nothing to do with datamining or violating your privacy on Facebook. FB is just the medium used to post that information and ask tips from public because like it or not, it's used by hundreds of millions of people and reaches people better than newspapers.
          • by lgarner (694957)

            Exactly. It's a "wanted" poster in the post office. Only now, you don't have to go to the post office to see it.

            You can be that no one would care if they posted this stuff on the city's web site, but because it's the city's FACEBOOK page it's suddenly an issue.

            This has nothing to do with stupid kids or criminals posting on FB, it has nothing to do with whether FB is a success, and it's not an invasion of privacy.

            • by tehcyder (746570)

              This has nothing to do with stupid kids or criminals posting on FB, it has nothing to do with whether FB is a success, and it's not an invasion of privacy.

              So what's it doing on slashdot? "Technology helps government officials in a small way to do some good" is not really your libertarian slashtard's dream headline.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      how many of the criminals who don't use facebook will go un-caught?
      Yes, the entire police department is ONLY waiting on tips from its Facebook page now. You win the internets. All criminals not posted on their Facebook page will never be caught. 911 has been shut down in favor of Twitter, too.

      Where's that whoosh coming from?

  • This is small town Texas. Everyone is in everyone else's business in these type of places. As a result, this technique probably doesn't scale well to larger locales.

    • by rubycodez (864176)
      53,000 people isn't "small town", even though I've lived in bigger suburbs that's big enough where everyone *doesn't* know everyone else
      • by Isaac-1 (233099)

        It is also one of the nicer suburbs on the north side of Houston, 10 or 15 years ago it was its own somewhat isolated city, now it is just the northern frontier of the greater Houston area, one continuous expanse of shopping malls, car dealerships and casual dining establishments along I-45 from Conroe to the Galveston 90 miles south.

    • by calc (1463)

      Conroe is the county seat of Montgomery county which has nearly 500,000 people. So while there may only be 56,207 people in Conroe itself, apparently wikipedia hasn't been updated, its in a much larger county, a fair chunk of Conroe's ETJ was ceded so that The Woodlands can form a city in a few years. Oh and they also managed to get an Intel processor named after the town.

      And I live there. :-)

    • Not true. The Boston police have a Twitter page [twitter.com] that allows them to post updates and respond to citizens' questions, and it has scaled beautifully.
  • Next up (Score:5, Funny)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @07:18PM (#36902416)
    * Officer McDuff has beat the crap out of Neighbor Joe and arrested him on fake drug charges. LAPD, NSA, and 3 others like this. * Neighbor Joe and Officer McDuff are no longer friends. * Attorney Smith and Neighbor Joe are now friends.
  • by triclipse (702209) <slashdot&combslaw,cc> on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @07:34PM (#36902510) Homepage
    I do a fair amount of debt collection. Facebook is one my best sources for finding my deadbeats for service of process and wage garnishments.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    After the riots we had following the Stanley cup playoffs, many of the vandals pictures were posted on facebook. This soon spawned a site entirely devoted to catching people based on pictures and videos from the night.
    The interwebs can be a power tool indeed...

  • Eat donuts and solve crimes! Bonus!!
  • From most news stories, I gathered Facebook, when involved with crime, was facilitating more the supply side

    • You're thinking more about the Zynga side of things. Though the zuck has his thumb in that pie as well.

  • Vancouver Riot (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mia'cova (691309) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @08:07PM (#36902780)

    The recent riot in Vancouver is an excellent example of this. The police probably caught a good hundred people directly thanks to social media. Maybe they would have found most of those people by other means.. but they basically had the worst offenders all identified within hours thanks to social media.

    • by NFN_NLN (633283)

      The recent riot in Vancouver is an excellent example of this. The police probably caught a good hundred people directly thanks to social media. Maybe they would have found most of those people by other means.. but they basically had the worst offenders all identified within hours thanks to social media.

      Watch out for a future crime spree from Casey Anthony...
      http://gawker.com/5824690/the-casey-anthony-latex-mask [gawker.com]

    • by Nyder (754090)

      The recent riot in Vancouver is an excellent example of this. The police probably caught a good hundred people directly thanks to social media. Maybe they would have found most of those people by other means.. but they basically had the worst offenders all identified within hours thanks to social media.

      You say that like rioting is a bad thing.

      • Re:Vancouver Riot (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Mad Merlin (837387) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @09:49PM (#36903488) Homepage

        In this case, yes, it absolutely was. The riots were caused because a sports team lost a game.

        If you want to riot, riot over something that matters.

        • by Nyder (754090)

          In this case, yes, it absolutely was. The riots were caused because a sports team lost a game.

          If you want to riot, riot over something that matters.

          Well, the sport team losing was the straw the broke the camels back, but what got these people so riled up in their life that they felt it was okay to riot and destroy stuff?

      • by Raenex (947668)

        You say that like rioting is a bad thing.

        A riot is almost never a good thing. The people punished usually have nothing to do with whatever it is people are rioting about, if in fact they are even rioting for some worthwhile cause.

  • and this story i think is candycoating it a little much. facebook will gladly hand over your personal information, contacts, and media to law enforcement
    without a formal warrant. cops dont "need" to post anything; you've done the work for them.
  • Can we post pictures of police officers who have wronged us? This should get interesting..
  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Thursday July 28, 2011 @12:39AM (#36904458)
    The police make mistakes. Often. So if they put your name up, and it turns out that you are not guilty, or even the right person, what happens next?

    A guy named Ramirez was falsely arrested in LA for the horrible beating of a Giants fan. The police were feeling the heat, so they went after Ramirez. The case almost immediately fell apart, but they kept saying it was the man in custody until they arrested the other two suspects.

    In this case Ramirez is still in jail for a probation violation, which he is contesting. If you search for his name you will find all the details of the false arrest.

    Now suppose that it's you, and you haven't done anything and don't have a criminal record. How do you fix that? Remember the Internet never forgets. Even if they take down the web page it will still hit on your name. Will they post a retraction? Maybe if you sue them. Outside of a trial it is very rare for someone to be declared "not guilty" in a legal sense.

    They have no incentive to put up a retraction. It makes them look bad, so they will resist any responsibility. They would rather see an innocent person in jail then admit an error, so if you are just accused how much leverage do you think that you will have?

    Just kiss your online presence goodbye. You will never get the interview with an online application process. That means you can't get hired at a national grocery store, for example, much less a tech job. You could be denied credit and not be told why. All these things can be overcome to some extent, but it could haunt you for the rest of your life.

    Does it sound like such a good idea now? If you think you are immune your are being foolish. There is a lot of power here to hurt innocent people, and very little a victim can do to clear their name.

  • 'We've prevented some pretty serious incidents simply because people reached out to the few police officers that were using social media,' says Constable Scott Mills, the force's social media officer. 'This is going to lead to a lot more trust and a lot more transparency.'

    I lived on the north side of Houston until April of this year. Conroe was 18 minutes from my house. I even lived in Conroe for 3 years. In Conroe or all of Montgomery County there is no such thing as Transparency. They are, have always been, and always will be a closed force who has been investigated by the DoJ several times for their unprofessional ways. Facebook is just a way to make the citizens believe they have changed. Those that will buy into getting pulled over in a school zone and told the speed li

  • I quit face book...

  • Would you believe just the facts maam?
  • Great to hear that facebook can be used for good instead of just evil!

  • Way too late, I know. But...
    Builders build
    Hunters hunt
    Buglers bugle
    So what do burglars do?

Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it.

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