Social media posts are becoming the new digital fingerprints for law enforcement, providing critical tips and leads on criminal activity. Yet most law enforcement agencies aren’t monitoring or using social media sites to gather intelligence. When individuals do make threats and articulate criminal activity, we are often learning about it by accident.
However, new analytics technologies exist that can pore through huge amounts of social media data to uncover patterns and analyze sentiment. Social media analytics can continuously monitor online and social conversation data to identify important topics and content categories. Predictive analytics can be used to see a criminal threat develop and allow law enforcement to quickly intercede to prevent a crime from occurring.
Chicago is a proving ground for this concept right now, as police try to prevent recurrences of recent flash mob crimes. In these cases, social media has been used to broadcast the target area of criminal activity. Teenagers have been using Twitter to notify each other as they target stores on Michigan Avenue and are able to overwhelm private security with sheer numbers in a brief and well-coordinated merchandise grab. There have also been similar crimes that rely on social media to target an individual for robbery in a precisely timed, violent attack.
Police can use search technologies in their investigation to pinpoint social media accounts used by suspects, setting the stage for court orders to obtain user information so law enforcement can gather the evidence and make arrests.
When an individual tweets or posts information about a target, a crime, and a specific time, then this shows intent. When people agree on a criminal plan of action, it becomes a violation of law, and arrests can be made before (or as) the criminal act occurs. We certainly need to tread carefully here because peaceful public assembly is a guaranteed right. However, this kind of interdiction is going to take on an increasing role for effective police. The key is monitoring and analyzing the data in near real-time and giving that information to local law enforcement as quickly as possible.
Ask yourself this question: If an individual in your business district began shouting threats at the crowds, how long would it take for police to be notified and respond? Maybe 60 seconds? Now ask yourself how quickly your agency would respond to the same threats voiced over Twitter, Facebook or the other social media channels? Is anybody looking for it? Let me know what you’re seeing on this and let’s discuss.