Social Media & Law Enforcement
Social media has grown to become one of the most influential communication channels in human history. Law enforcement agencies are certainly not exempt from the draw of social content. There are a number of ways that the medium plays a role in preventing crimes and solving crimes, as well as enhancing the reputation of law enforcement online.
One of the easiest ways for law enforcement agencies to prevent crimes of opportunity is by educating the public about the value of privacy in social networking venues. Some criminal justice graduate programs are even teaching courses on the application of “opportunity blocking” to reduce online and offline crimes.
The truth is that every time someone posts about their vacation, evening plans or new purchases, they become a potential target for a break-in and/or theft. Posting personal information about one’s children can also be a hidden danger, by attracting attention from predators that would do them harm. Even innocent details as simple as a hometown, birthday and pet’s name can be used to help hackers figure out passwords and answers to secret questions designed to keep data safe.
Criminal investigation strategies that use social networking have hit the mainstream. Once looked upon with skepticism, an increasing number of law enforcement agencies have embraced the technology. It is not unusual to hear a news story about a criminal who posted details of their actions online, only to be apprehended within hours.
Additionally, social media has proven to be extremely effective in the widespread communications of Amber Alerts and all-points bulletins targeting specific individuals. Tips can begin to filter in within a matter of minutes, which, in some cases, can also be a matter of life or death.
Law enforcement – like any other business – can benefit from the use of social media to build relationships within an online community. Not only can agencies publish crime notices as indicated above, they can also share information on employment opportunities, neighborhood “night out” events, charitable initiatives, fundraisers, and more.
Social media is also an excellent way to introduce K-9 officers, promote achievements within the law enforcement ranks, and memorialize the passing of a colleague. It can also be used to help young people become interested in law enforcement and criminal justice careers through trivia, history, and education-related posts.