To date, the rapid growth of social media has proved to be something of a double-edged sword for New York City law enforcement.
First, the good news: Investigators with the New York Police Department are using sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out more about crimes and the individuals suspected of being involved in the unlawful activity. Police officials say they have been able to strike gold through their mining of social networks. In early April, dozens of suspected gang members were arrested after making bold posts on social websites, according to media reports.
“There is a social media component, because these kids, these crews, are bragging and telegraphing what they’re going to do in terms of who they’re going to shoot, who they’re going to kill,” NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told The Wall Street Journal.
Kelly said some gang members even have their photo taken in front of the homes of their intended victims.
At an April community forum in the Bronx, Assistant Commissioner Kevin O’Connor of the police department’s Juvenile Justice Division said a spike in gang-related crime in the borough had been spurred by gang members using the Internet. O’Connor said gangs are using Facebook and YouTube to threaten or taunt each other, which leads to real-life violence.
“Kids are shooting each other over what’s being posted on Facebook,” he said, according to an article in the New York Daily News.
The Daily News has also reported that NYPD officers at a Brooklyn precinct scan the Internet for photographs of weapons or for clues about gang activity. The online sleuthing has been credited with helping investigators take guns off the streets of the crime-ridden neighborhood.
“Social media has changed everything,” Joseph Gulotta, the precinct commander, told the newspaper.
At the same time law enforcement officers are tapping into social media to bolster crime-fighting efforts, they are also being warned to monitor their own online activities. In March, the NYPD brass issued tougher standards governing the social media interactions of the department’s 35,000 officers. The rules caution officers against such things as tagging their co-workers in photographs and publishing photos of themselves in uniform, unless the picture was taken at an official event.
The new rules also prohibit the posting of crime scene photographs or witness information online.
The tightened regulations come in the wake of a series of incidents that generated negative publicity for the department, including offensive Facebook comments posted by some officers about a West Indian cultural parade, The New York Times reported.