Police around the country are using instant messages, text conversations, posts, photos, videos and more to aid criminal investigations, in addition to creating their own department accounts to reach their communities with alerts and updates.
Such investigation methods have come a long way since the days when phone records, followed by text messages and then emails proved to be powerful evidence as police investigations evolved over time. Today, communication and information sharing goes beyond calls and texts with social media, and police departments are utilizing this technology as a tool for fighting crime.
When a South Carolina man was shot in 2013, police used his personal social media account to find that he was recently feuding with two men online.
With that information, police were able to gather a list of suspects as well as potential witnesses who saw the conversations and posts, Greenville Online reports.
Using this information in accordance with video surveillance footage from a nearby building where the shooting took place, police put together the start of an investigation using social media as the building blocks.
Traditionally popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter aren’t the only helpful online resources for police, although they are the most frequent with 92 percent of departments using Facebook and 65 percent on Twitter, a 2013 social media survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found.
Pinterest helped a California police department re-unite a woman with jewelry stolen from her home during a burglary in 1983. The bracelet, with the names and birthdates of the woman’s three children, was discovered thanks to posts on the department’s Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest page for recovered property.
Police departments are also creating their own social media profiles to keep in touch with their communities. The City of Phoenix Police Department, for example, posts breaking news, alerts, safety tips and more on its Facebook page to keep residents informed.
In some instances, social media helped build a relationship between police and the community. USA Today reports that posts have brought residents and officers together online to identify photos of suspects, name shoplifters and find the owners of lost pets.
In fact, the same 2013 the International Association of Chiefs of Police survey found that more than 73 percent of law enforcement agencies believe social media has improved community relations.