Spontaneous Help For Law Enforcement – Baltimore PD gets Social Media tips it didn’t even ask for.

So one of the things cops ask me about all the time is, “Can I go out and search Twitter and Facebook when investigating a crime?”  The answer is “it depends”.  It depends on what your department’s rules are.  It depends on what your DA thinks about admissibility of evidence you proactively gather from SM.  It depends on whether you were (please say you weren’t) actually logged into your own account vs. searching publicly accessible posts.  It depends on…, and it depends on… and it depends.

However, there is a model under which you don’t need to worry about any of that.  It’s the inbound model of “SM4LE” as I call it, where the public brings information in to you via social media.  In yesterday’s post, I previously noted cases where material posted on Department SM feeds and pages brought in responses, tips and definitive IDs on various criminals.

Here’s a different variant, one I actually found kind of heartening.  Not long ago, not one but two different videos surfaced online of a man being publicly beaten, stripped and humiliated in Baltimore.  There has since been an arrest thanks to material gleaned from Social Media.  So what’s different about this case?  Unlike the Utica and Texas cases noted yesterday, this wasn’t a video the police put out on SM asking for help, it was a video that was going viral on various video sharing sites.  What the press reports indicate is that the video so incensed some of its viewers, they spontaneously worked through social media to identify the men in the video and voluntarily notify BPD of their findings without being asked.

People just saw injustice and stepped up of their own accord.  That’s kind of cool, given the original video could make one wonder about people. As the Baltimore Police Commissioner says in the article:

“It’s easy to [see a video like that] and think, ‘Damn, what’s happening to the fabric of our society.’ But to come in the next day and know that we’ve got leads on who the suspect is — just when you think we’ve left the rails, people help bring you back. That’s enormously gratifying.”


One Response

  1. Hey Eric!

    This phenomenon has become popular in China as well. They ominously call it a “human flesh search engine”


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