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"We're Paying Attention Policing"

Monitoring Twitter at LASD

Just weeks into launching its Electronic Communications Triage Unit (eComm) the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) is learning new ways to prevent crime. By monitoring social networks, now 24/7, the LASD has gotten ahead of hundreds of pay parties openly advertising illegal drugs and underage drinking. Captain Mike Parker commands the Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau (SHB) and coordinates the Department’s media and public outreach.  “These types of parties tend to generate violent crimes,” he said.

The LASD deputies are having to learn new policing techniques. Parker explained, “our deputies are used to rolling up when these events are well underway.  Our deputies aren’t used to getting clear information that there’s going to be a party with a lot of illegal activity and troublemakers.” While some call it predictive policing, Parker is quick to point out that it’s mostly about paying attention.

The pay parties that are openly advertised through Twitter and Facebook are also popular with gang members, who are also monitoring social media.

Events at private residences which charge admission fees and sell alcohol without a permit are illegal in Los Angeles County.  Parker says these events are openly advertised for the world to see on social media and often include comments such as free to girls wearing short skirts, lots of illegal drugs and heavy drinking, and no effort to restrict minors from attending.

The LASD SHB eComm team is careful to forward on only those events which openly advertise illegal activity.

With regard to flash mobs “you don’t necessarily know if they’re going to do a little dance or something more.”

Intel regarding flash mobs is sent on to the handling station or agency for “situational awareness” purposes only along with a reminder of the public’s First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. Parker explains when you know something is going to happen days in advance, you can do a lot to get ready, like reallocate officers for crowd and traffic control.   They “literally paste[s] the first amendment into the email” when it is sent to the field:

“This notification from LASD SHB eComm is for situational awareness of possible impending gatherings or protests, so that the law enforcement can prepare for traffic and crowd control needs while the public exercises their rights guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

U.S. Constitution – Amendment 1 – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The eComm Unit includes one civilian Social Media Dispatcher (previously assigned station desk dispatchers) around the clock, supervised by Public Information Officer LASD Sheriffs Headquarters Bureau eComm deputies.

“Sheriff Lee Baca recognized the importance of sharing information via social media as well as monitoring and listening,” said Parker.  “This is just a fraction of the responsibilities and successes of SHB eComm, which continue to expand each day.”

Facebook: Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

I’ve written before about the, often ludicrous, ways in which criminals have advertised their crimes on social media and ended up being apprehended as a result.

This week, three rather more serious stories which demonstrate how difficult Facebook makes it to stay anonymous in the 21st Century.

First, a story from the US on the new difficulties facing undercover law enforcement personnel.

Woman arrested for posting Facebook photos of undercover cop

A Texas woman was arrested earlier in the month for revealing the identity of an undercover police officer who had testified against her friend in court in a drug case.

The friend had found a photo of the officer on Facebook while researching him online.

He and his brother then used the photos to make fliers which they intended to post all over town.

The woman herself posted the photo on Facebook and identified its subject as an undercover policeman.

Full details here.


Next to Australia with a similar story.

Facebook refuse to take down undercover cop page

Criminals in the Australian state of Victoria have apparently got sufficiently organised to crowdsource information about local unidentified police cars which they have posted to a Facebook page.

The page has more than 12,500 followers and as of 21st October 2012, Facebook were refusing to remove the page stating, rather disingenuously, that it couldn’t stop people taking photos in a public place.

True, but they could decide not to host the page with those photos on it.

Again, for full details, click here.

Internet PrivacyCreative Commons License o5com via Compfight

Finally, we return to the UK for a story of how a private individual used Facebook to investigate a serious crime that had not been reported to police.

Husband tracks down wife’s rapist via Facebook

A number of  newspapers carried reports two weeks ago about a trial taking place at Maidstone Crown Court.

They concerned a husband whose wife confided in him that she had been raped by an old boyfriend ten years earlier.

The husband took to Facebook and started talking to old friends to track down the alleged rapist.

He claimed to be organising a surprise party for his wife and managed to get in touch with his wife’s attacker and find out his address.

The husband confronted the man and assaulted him.

The wife then reported her rape to the police


It seems that it’s equally risky for law enforcement officers and criminals to have a Facebook presence unless they are very careful with their privacy settings.

This story was first posted on Russell Webster’s blog.

Social Media Heating Up Cold Cases

Joe Giacalone is @coldcasesquad

The explosive growth of social media has been amazing to watch. As a former law enforcement officer I used social media during investigations to try and tap into the electronic street for information. Whether it was to track the whereabouts of wanted individuals or to try and catch a tidbit of information, social media often provides what you seek when properly used. Now, that I am retired, I am exploring new ways that LEOs can use social media to help solve more cases by using the existing tools that are already out there. The focus of this article is how law enforcement can use social media to help stoke interest in cold cases. I was surprised to see how many police department websites don’t have a page dedicated to missing persons and unsolved crimes.

Social media can play a bifurcated role in help solving cold cases. First, for the victim’s family, it keeps the case relevant. There is no better way to give the case life then injecting a fresh look at things. Birthdays, incident dates and holidays can all be used to garner information. Using social media also helps bridge the gap that develops in cold cases between the family and the police. It brings good will and a renewed interest. However, before I started any social media campaign for a cold case, I would ensure two things: 1) that the case has some solvability factors and 2) that I spoke with the family and explained what is happening before going live. Family members always want to see the case closed with an arrest, however, the emotions brought out when renewing the relationship weighs heavily on them.

For LEOs, social media provides a home base for the collection and dissemination of intelligence information for people that knew the victim(s), followed the case carefully and may be able to provide further information. It can also serve as a database of eyewitnesses that now may have scattered throughout the nation or identify ones that were originally reluctantly to come forward. With the many location finders on social media, investigators can save hundreds of hours tracking down people that were involved with the case. What is better than them coming to you? In essence, the social media page acts as an online memorial and tribute to the victim. They always seem to bring about chatter and conversations which may in turn provide a viable lead. It is important that the page be monitored and investigators should respond and engage comments posted on the site.

Whenever you create a website or post, you have to think about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is a tricky thing for non-techies like myself, so I will encourage you to read up on it. However, there are a few simple things that you can do so that your site gets the maximum attention from search engines. Make sure you include Tags and or Labels. Tags and Labels are the words that describe what is in your post and will be picked up by search engines and each platform, Blogger, WordPress, etc. calls them different things, but they have the same goal, optimization.

When designing a cold case page or post, ensure you include the following tags and or labels so that if anyone inputs the label in a search, your post will show up in the results:

  • Victim’s name
  • Hometown
  • Location of the incident (if known)
  • Date of incident
  • Local Police Department’s name and contact info

Social media can help investigators garner new information and leads, however, it is still the mainstream media that drives the point home. Many cold cases come from the era that predated the Internet, so television news spots, newspapers and radio are still vital in investigations. That demographic cannot be ignored. Social media can be used to attract the mainstream media, which can gauge the public’s interest on a particular case and cover it, supplying law enforcement with the amount of exposure necessary to turn the heat up on cold cases.

Connect with @TampaPD Cops

Great creativity by Tampa Police as they join the “Call Me Maybe” video craze. If this doesn’t get them a bit more connected with their community, I don’t know what would.

I’m going to have to send a few ConnectedCOPS ball caps to Tampa, I think.

The last time I recall a Police Department displaying this much imagination and creativity in their social media efforts was when Sgt Jay Turner of Hamilton Ontario Police created a video to commemorate the department’s 10,000th tweet.

Introducing PIOpost, the social media dashboard for public safety agencies

In a recent survey performed by Accenture, citizens were asked if they felt as though police agencies were maximizing their use of technology to communicate with the public.  The results of the survey were quite clear – three quarters of all respondents said they would like to see police forces using more digital channels to communicate, yet only 20 percent of respondents said their police forces are currently using digital channels to communicate.

At this point, it’s no longer a question of whether your agency should be using social media – you’d be hard-pressed to have read a public safety blog or magazine over the past several years that didn’t consistently sing the praises of social media.  The real question has become how to make the most of the resources you have available in order to provide citizens with timely, informative, and engaging information.  PIOpost is the answer.

PIOpost is a social media dashboard made specifically for public safety agencies – not bloated enterprise software made with businesses or corporations in mind, just the essential tools and features you need to get the job done.  How does it work?  PIOpost operates on three simple principles – Post, Inform, and Measure.

Click here for info about a free PIOpost webinar November 8th



Post – The foundation of PIOpost is in the way it captures information to be disseminated to the public.  One simple form with just three required fields can accommodate a nearly infinite number of scenarios.  Anything from sending out a quick note about a road closure, to posting a series of surveillance photos and videos from a recent string of robberies – PIOpost knows exactly how to handle and format your content. You can also save drafts, create templates for recurring notifications, integrate Google Maps and utilize numerous other features – all secured by 256 bit SSL protection.

Inform – Once PIOpost gets ahold of the content you want disseminated, watch PIOpost kick into high gear.  Videos are automatically posted to your agency’s YouTube Channel, images are organized into attractive photo galleries, and notifications are perfectly formatted to Facebook and Twitter’s specifications and posted to your agency’s respective pages.  We know not every member of the public is on social media yet though, so PIOpost also posts notifications to your agency’s existing public website, RSS feed, and instantly sends email notification to any subscribers.  All at the push of a button.

Having the ability to notify citizens through these different lines of communication is critical to keeping the public informed and engaged, but each online medium, whether it’s an email, or a 140 character tweet have their own unique limitations.  That’s why each notification sent out through PIOpost generates a custom webpage, branded to your agency’s specifications that contains all aspects of the notification – whether it’s additional text from a press release or videos, photos, and maps associated with the notification.  The link to this “expanded” view is automatically included in every post – something other social media tools like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite don’t offer.


Measure – No social media dashboard would be complete without the ability to measure the impact of your online efforts.  That’s why PIOpost allows you to easily monitor the total number of followers your agency has, review what notifications are getting the most views, and how citizens are getting to them.  These measurement tools will allow you to receive instant feedback on what type of information the public is responding to and give insight into how to better adjust how your agency sends out information.

PIOpost enforces an instant set of “best practices” learned only through first hand experience working within public safety.  It reinforces professionalism, consistency, and allows agencies to focus on the message they are trying to convey, rather than the technical speedbumps that inevitably come along with trying to manage a variety of online tools.

If your agency is looking to become more efficient in managing their online presence, or if your agency is new to social media, you need to check out our upcoming webinar “Introduction To PIOpost” HERE. Be sure to also visit http://piopost.com for a risk free 90 day trial and see why agencies just like yours trust PIOpost to keep citizens informed and engaged in the places they visit most online.


Brian Hurst

Brian Hurst has over 10 years of professional experience developing web based tools for organizations large and small, including multiple Fortune 500 companies.  Over the past three years Brian has worked within law enforcement to help agencies develop innovative public facing websites, and to establish effective and engaging uses for social media.  Brian has been awarded for his work in managing digital communication during numerous large scale events and emergencies which received national media coverage, and continues to find new and innovative ways to support public safety through the use of technology.  

Brian is the co-founder and chief application architect of PIOpost, a web based dashboard to assist public safety agencies in managing their online presence.
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