Around the country, cops are learning the value of social networking, a term that has taken on a whole new meaning in this high-tech era. It wasn’t that long ago that social networking meant socializing in a circle of acquaintances who might help you land a job. That certainly isn’t the case anymore.
Investigators are finding that social networking sites can actually solve crimes. Or, at the very least, they can provide significant leads. For inexplicable reasons, many crooks seem to be very comfortable posting their exploits on Web pages. A South Carolina bank robber fled to Virginia and posted on his MySpace page: “On tha run for robbin a bank Love all of yall.” Other crimes have been solved by the discovery of photos posted to the Web. In Washington state, three teenage assault victims turned to the Web, armed only with a nickname of one of the assailants. They found a MySpace profile complete with a photo of one of the attackers that they turned over to police. Obviously,this type of information can make the difference in an investigation, but you must make the effort.
Jason Aguirre, a Westminster, Calif., gang member, fled to Arizona after committing a murder. When he was arrested months later after being involved in a fight, police in Tempe contacted the Westminster Police Department (WPD), which requested that any computers, cell phones or other digital equipment be seized from Aguirre’s residence. The WPD knew from experience that this type of effort could reap huge dividends, and they were hoping to find evidence that would strengthen the case against Aguirre.
It turns out they were right, and the information gleaned was invaluable in putting the case together against Aguirre. He’d been actively engaged in chat sessions and was using a gang-affiliated social networking site. Unknown to Aguirre, his computer had been infected with a key-logger virus that captured every key stroke, essentially providing detectives with a script of every post he had made. For more information on the Aguirre case and to learn how you can benefit from this type of investigative effort, check out the article, “Digital Evidence” by going to www.lawofficer.com and entering “Spruill” (one of the author’s names) in the search box.
For the Good Guys
Time and again, alibis have been disproved or plots identified by a tenacious and tech-savvy investigator. At Law Officer, we’ll provide you the information you need to stay on top of the changing technological landscape. Just last month, we ran an article on mobile phone forensics (“Going Mobile”), and you can count on similar tech-centric articles in the future.
The good guys have also been using social networking in a proactive way. Do you Twitter? Have you ever sent a “tweet”? A lot of departments are utilizing this funny sounding technology to reach out to their communities. In seconds, alerts can be posted on traffic disruptions, significant police activity or imminent threats. Some agencies encourage tips on major crimes and provide breaking information on school lockdowns or evacuations. Watch for a related story in an upcoming issue.
Let’s return to where we began, with social networking on the Web. I want to remind everyone that we recently rolled out LawOfficerConnect.com, and it’s quickly become a valued resource for many of you (in addition to being outright fun). If you have a particular interest, this is a great way to network with your peers and get answers for your most challenging questions. For example, there are more than 150 members in the Firearms Instructor’s group. Take a look, and sign up at www.lawofficerconnect.com.
One last tech note:
Be sure to sign up for the upcoming
webcast on mobile video, scheduled for July 30. The host will be Miles Brissette, a Tarrant County, Texas, prosecutor known for his expertise in this area. Miles has been a featured speaker at IACP and
NIJ conferences and has proven his knowledge over and over by taking tough cases from the street to the courtroom. I’ve talked with him several times, and I guarantee that no one is better equipped to give you the absolute “must-know” about police video. Sign up for this free event by going to
—Dale Stockton, Editor in Chief