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Police departments forced to weigh the pros and cons of social media

social_media_icons_18.jpgThe explosion in social media over the last several years has meant more people than ever -- including those who are not the most computer savvy -- are able to connect on a moment's notice, sharing everything from personal information to news stories. Of course, it's not just the average computer/smart phone user that has made social media a part of their daily routine, as businesses and even police departments have gotten in on the act.

Why exactly would a police department want to open a Facebook or Twitter account, or use social media in any capacity?

According to experts, police departments are increasingly relying on social media to help communicate important developments (amber alerts, crime alerts, etc.), build stronger ties with the community and, of course, to help fight crime.

For instance, police departments now establish Facebook pages where they post maps and crime/suspect descriptions, and online programs that enable people to submit anonymous tips via Twitter or text message.

Furthermore, police departments can use social media to locate those people who boast of their criminal exploits on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, or set up elaborate criminal investigations designed to stop internet sex crimes.

To illustrate, Wisconsin state officials recently arrested over a dozen men as a result of "Operation Black Veil," a major investigation in which law enforcement used online personal ads to ensnare suspects.

Interestingly, social media isn't always beneficial to police departments and can sometimes even serve to create real problems.

Just last week, a concerned Wisconsin father made a Facebook post indicating that his son was being picked on by school bullies and that the Kaukauna Police Department was failing to respond to his pleas for an investigation. In the blink of an eye, the post generated thousands of likes and shares on Facebook, and the Kaukauna PD came under intense criticism despite the fact that it hadn't even had time to conduct any sort of investigation.

"You've got to take the bitter with the sweet. There's a lot of benefits for police with social media," said Prof. Michael O'Hear of Marquette University Law School. "They can collect information and take advantage of this rapid and uncensored spirit of the social media. But police departments can find themselves in the crosshairs. And that's the problem."

What are your thoughts on the use of social media by police departments?

Remember to consider contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney whether you have already been arrested or are under investigation.

Source: The Oshkosh Northwestern, "Social media has benefits for authorities," Andy Thompson, April 10, 2013

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