The title pretty much says it all. The use of social media by Law Enforcement is growing; be it by individual Officers or by Departments. There are a multitude of reasons why the use of the Internet and social media has caught the eye of police. The most obvious is for investigative purposes. Solving crimes and tracking down people is much easier with the use of the Internet. Just like anyone can search for names, phone numbers, locations and information using various search engines, so do we. There are also services that provide much more detailed information that conduct more intense searches for a fee. This type of information is not unique to Law Enforcement, but is available to just about anyone who is willing to pay for it.
Law Enforcement has also gotten better at sharing information between agencies which allows for greatly improved capability to identify suspects and link criminal information. Secure Internet has provided that ability to us. The Internet has also allowed us to use sites to look for criminal activity. Sites like Craiglist and Ebay allow us the opportunity to proactively go after persons who participate in criminal behavior. Other sites where sexual predators seek victims or trade information are monitored and participated in so that we can further investigations as well.
The most important thing to remember is that just like you, the information that we access on a daily basis is public and readily available by anyone when it comes to normal use of the Internet. Unless we are conducting an investigation that is criminal in nature and we obtain search warrants or court orders, private information us exactly that - private.
A growing aspect to the use of the Internet by Law Enforcement is the use of social media. Social media is a great opportunity for police to interact with the community, share information, keep the community informed and vice versa. CNN ran a recent article on the topic, taking a look at Lakeland Police Department in Florida. A similar post on DygiScape by Joe Manna offers some links to other Law Enforcement uses of Twitter. Both articles discuss the use of social media by police. Cops2point0.com is a website hosted by Christa Miller and Scott White that is dedicated to examining and discussing better uses of social media by Law Enforcement. A few other local agencies use blogs or Twitter to reach out to their community. Take a look at Whitter PD, LAPD, and LASD Santa Clarita Station.
In addition to agency websites, there may be police associations, like APOA & Torrance POA, or individual police officers that host their own blogs, Twitter, Facebook or other social media related sites. Take a look at PoliceOne.com for a list of just some police related blogs. It is interesting to read the assorted posts and opinions.
Bottom line, don't panic...police use social media too!