Police put social media on the trail of crime investigations

Survey finds police making use of social networking tools

Police departments these days are walking the beat via social media tools, increasingly employing social networking in criminal investigations.

In a recent survey by the International Associated of Chiefs of Police (IACP), 81 percent of the 728 law enforcement agencies surveyed said they use social media in some form. The most common use of social media is for investigation.

When asked how they employ social media, 63.2 percent of respondents said they use it for investigating crimes, 40 percent for soliciting tips on crimes, and 44 percent for notifying the public of crime problems.

The focus on investigations surpassed some of the common uses of other government agencies for social media, such as community outreach (40.6 percent), notifying the public of emergencies (40.3 percent) and public relations (37.4 percent).

Agencies are making use of some of the most common channels, the survey found. Facebook was by far the most popular tool among respondents, used by nearly 67 percent of the agencies that use social media. Other social networking channels being used include Twitter (29.8 percent), Nixle (also 29.8 percent), MySpace (21.6 percent) and YouTube (17.6 percent).

The IACP, a nonprofit group for police executives, last year set up its Center for Social Media to help police departments make to use the tools to investigate crimes and enhance community relations ad services, Lauren Katims writes in Government Technology.

“It’s a way for law enforcement to communicate with people where they already are, to reach them in the ways they are communicating,” Nancy Kolb, senior program manager for the IACP, told Katims. “In a lot of ways social media humanizes law enforcement.”

And it appears to be getting results in at least some jurisdictions. When the agencies in the IACP survey where asked if social media had helped them solve crimes, 45.3 percent said yes, 31.6 percent said no, and 23.1 percent didn’t know.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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