New crime-fighting tool, the police tweet, leads to speedy arrest of shooting suspects

Once upon a time, police officers commonly walked a beat and interacted with the community, picking up tips along the way that could help solve crimes.

Today, their superiors are using social media to keep in touch with even more members of the public. That both frees up officers on patrol to respond to incident calls and increases the chance of receiving crime-solving tips, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

A recent shooting at a fast-food restaurant in Oakland, Calif., was quickly solved after Capt. Anthony Toribio went on Twitter and posted a description of the suspects to the 11,000 individuals following the police department and his own nearly 1,000 followers. Within an hour, a woman who saw the alert called police, giving the location of the suspects, the newspaper recounts. Police rushed to apprehend them and said they found the suspects and the gun used in the shooting in the Infiniti sedan seen fleeing the scene.

Social media is not foolproof, however, as in the recent case of a Chicago 17-year-old charged as an adult with aggravated battery in a shooting case. He was identified to police by the victim after being spotted in a photo posted on Twitter of two individuals with a gun. The problem was, the arrested teen, Patrick Myers, wasn’t the individual in the photograph, DNAInfo.com reports.

Shown in a news photo with his aunt outside the Cook County Courthouse, wearing a dress shirt, tie and a big smile after the charges against him were dismissed Friday, the teenager, who attends Hyde Park High School, would never have been seen holding a gun, said Signora Jones of her nephew. “We knew he didn’t do it.”

Despite some missteps, these new crime-fighting methods aren’t going away and are increasingly being used by law enforcement throughout the country.

The Dallas Police Department is encouraging not only supervisors but patrol officers to tweet, the Dallas Morning News reports. The department offers its officers a one-day training course on proper social media use.

Although there are concerns that officers might publicize information that should be kept confidential, inevitable mistakes—including the use of profanity by the police chief in a recent tweet—shouldn’t prevent law enforcement from using a valuable tool, said Massachusetts-based consultant Lauri Stevens. She is being paid by Dallas to help implement the new police social media policy, which includes both a Facebook page and a news blog.

“As chief said to me the other day, we give these guys the authority to take people’s lives if they have to,” Stevens told the newspaper. “Why would we not trust them to talk to the community?”

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Differing Views of Lawyers on Twitter: Savvy Marketing Tool or ‘Nonsense’?”

ABAJournal.com: “‘We see you, loser,’ police chief warns on much-liked Facebook page”

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