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Blaze on Campus: Felonbook -- Law Enforcers Use Social Media to Catch Criminals; Texas A&M University

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By Barrett House

The Battalion, Texas A&M U. via UWIRE

With the recent explosion of social networks, namely Facebook, students are not the only ones utilizing its capabilities.

Local authorities, as well as law enforcement departments across Texas, are using social networking technology to prevent crime as well as catch criminals.

Bryan Police Department assistant chief of police, Peter Scheets, said Bryan PD uses Facebook to keep tabs on criminal activities. In one instance, the police department was able to apprehend a suspect that had evaded police twice, because he posted the details on Facebook.

Detective Chris Loup, of the Bryan Police Department, who has received training for online social networking security, said that he has also used Facebook to identify a suspect based on information the victim had given him.

Another college town, Waco, has seen an increase in the use of Facebook as both an investigative tool and a way to get important information to the public.

Jim Doak, chief of the Baylor U. Police Department, said Baylor UPD uses Facebook to identify individuals; however, he said he was unable to give details about specific cases.

“ going to be with us as time goes on; we’re working on it and we will eventually get more involved,” Doak said.

Local authorities are also using Facebook as a tool for crime prevention. Bryan PD and College Station PD post tips on how to deter car burglaries and be safe in the city at night, especially on campus.

“We put crime prevention tips on Facebook and it has been very beneficial for that use.” said Patrick Swanton, public information officer sergeant for Waco Police Department. “We do not have an official page, but eventually we will have a page.”

Swanton said he was unable to comment on whether the Waco Police Department uses Facebook for investigations.

Larger cities, such as San Antonio, are also using Facebook as a tool for investigations.

“A detective that worked in the intelligence unit was looking for a suspect. He was able to track the suspect on Facebook, and, after the suspect posted that he was celebrating his birthday at a club, the detective was able to send officers to apprehend the suspect,” said Matthew Porter, San Antonio public information officer. “We’ll monitor tips that come in, and we’ll use any social network to follow up on them.”

Departments of law enforcement, according to federal statutes for surveillance, need a criminal predicate to search social networks for information on suspects, incidents or witnesses.

“I completely agree with the fact that law enforcement should use any means of information to catch criminals,” said Blanca Guerrero, Texas A&M U. senior communication major. “Websites like Facebook and Twitter are free services. You’re free to put whatever information you want. If you don’t want people to know your business, don’t put it on there.”

According to Facebook’s data policy, Facebook is allowed by law to share information that is posted on the website with law enforcement.

“We may share your information in response to a legal request (like a search warrant, court order or subpoena) if we have a good faith belief that the law requires us to do so,” Facebook’s data policy states. “We may also share information when we have a good faith belief it is necessary to: detect, prevent and address fraud and other illegal activity; to protect ourselves and you from violations of our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities; and to prevent death or imminent bodily harm.”

When asked if she knew about Facebook’s data policy concerning requests of information, Guerrero said she agreed with the policy.

“If [an officer] is trying to do the right thing and capture a criminal, they should do whatever it takes to put that person behind bars,” Guerrero said.

Read more here

Copyright 2011 The Battalion

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