The largest police department in the U.S. has joined the growing list of law enforcement organizations using social media to track and combat crime, according to the New York Daily News, which reports that the New York Police Department has formed a new unit to sift social media sites like Twitter and Facebook for clues (as well as early warning signs of trouble).
The NYDN reports that Kevin O'Connor, the newly-appointed assistant commissioner, is heading up the newly-created social media division, which is part of the juvenile justice unit, and which will monitor social media on the lookout for information about misbehavior ranging from out-of-control house parties to gang battles, with an eye to preventing mayhem before it starts. O'Connor previously made a name for himself with online policing efforts including stings targeting sexual predators on social media and helping apprehend murderers based on their online boasting.
Indeed, the NYPD is pointing to several success stories already under its belt, including the apprehension of six youths who murdered an 18-year-old gay man, Anthony Coallo, at a party in Queens in March, after one of the assailants, Calvin Pietri, bragged about the crime on Facebook. The NYPD has also apprehended murder suspects by tracing an online feud, in one case, and checking the list of invitees on a Twitter invitation to a party, in another -- both of which transpired before the crime.
As noted, the NYPD is just the most recent law enforcement organization to begin employing social media. In August I wrote about the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Transit Police creating an official Twitter homepage to serve as a public tip line. The transit cops also created a system which will allow riders to send tips (and photos) via text messages directly to the authorities.
In March of this year the Philadelphia Police Department unveiled a new crime-fighting initiative using social media called "Video Villains" -- a "most wanted list" comprised of criminals caught in the act by video surveillance cameras (including both property and violent crimes).
Meanwhile the local police department in Evesham, N.J. has begun posting mug shots on the police department's Facebook profile, in a move that is basically designed to publicly shame miscreants ranging from drunk drivers to car thieves and worse. In the same vein, police in Huntington Beach, Calif. are posting names and mug shots of drunk drivers on the city's Facebook page, per a suggestion from the City Council.
At the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security has been using social networks to ferret out fake "green card" marriages between U.S. citizens and immigrants for the purpose of obtaining residency or citizenship for the latter. Overseas, the Israeli military is using Facebook to catch female draft-dodgers who avoid military duty by pleading religious exemption. This includes photos or status updates showing them eating at non-kosher restaurants, dressing immodestly, or RSVP-ing for party invitations on Friday nights, during the Jewish Sabbath.