Police Departments are Fighting Crime With Facebook and Selfies: Or at Least, Their Software Is

policeThanks to social media, fighting crime has gotten a little easier in some cases as helpful users forward information to hundreds of people, and help identify potential criminals.

In Spokane, Washington, police were recently led to a bike thief after a sharp-eyed passerby questioned someone attempting to cut a thin-wired bike cable. Even though the suspect — Nolan Reed — claimed that he lost his bike key, the passerby took a picture anyway and uploaded it to Facebook. 1,000+ shares later, the real bike owner was identified, and police were knocking on Reed’s door. They were able to receive a quick confession.

Although not all cases close this quickly, social media and crime have often met in interesting ways as the technology has matured. Many times, police have been alerted to criminal acts because of clueless thieves, trespassers, and abusers posting about their deeds to sites like Twitter and Facebook. Now, many police are seeking software that will help them to better monitor social media, and crack down on crime. For this reason, many police department are currently requesting funding so that they can purchase a software known as “SnapTrends.”

SnapTrends is a web-based service that can sift through all tweets, Instragram images, YouTube videos, and Facebook statuses within a given area. According to SnapTrends, their software can be used for a wide range of anti-criminal activities, including predictive analysis and incident prevention.

“This is a great use of Social Media, as long as the police don’t blindly act on what SnapTrends picks up,” says Tim McDonald, Project Manager for RankXpress. “There needs to be someone weeding through the posts that could potentially be regarding criminal activity, they have to be able to identify if something being said is a joke or serious. Online Marketers have been using this kind of technology for years to target Social Media posting opportunities and it is a proven strategy. If used correctly by law enforcement, it could be a great way to stop crimes before they happen or solve them that much quicker.”

The city of Racine, WI, is one of the latest to opt for the software, which cost their city $4,200. According to police chief Art Howell, the goal of the software isn’t to violate anyone’s civil liberties.

“I can almost assure you that there is enough stuff going in this town that we don’t have idle time to surf the internet,” said Howell in an interview with local newspaper, The Journal Times. The technology will be used for criminal investigations only.

Not everyone is sold on SnapTrends’ technology, and some question the true effectiveness of the data they are providing. It is only one of many software options available for police department monitoring. Still, the way police departments are increasingly relying on social media tracking software should make one thing even more clear: don’t put anything on social media that you wouldn’t want everyone to see.

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