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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Ind. Gov't. - "Law enforcement’s love-hate relationship with social media: Cops and courts examine pros, cons of online platform"

This is a very good, and long story in the Feb. 28th Mt. Vernon Democrat, reported by Rachel Christian. Some quotes:

Social media has changed the way people communicate, share news and stay connected.

It has also had a surprising impact on how law enforcement officials solve crimes.

Last month, two Mount Vernon suspects were arrested in conjunction with three local church break-ins. There were less than 48 hours between when the first burglary report came in to the Posey County Sheriff’s Office and when the arrests were made.

Why was the police’s work so swift? It turns out that social media played a major role.

“Once members of the churches started posting about the break-ins on Facebook, a lot of folks in the community wanted to help,” said Posey County Deputy Sheriff Tom Latham, who assisted in the case. “They wanted the people who committed the crimes to be brought to justice.”

The information online prompted several citizens to call in helpful tips to the Sheriff’s Office. The tips – as well as good old fashion police and detective work – helped lead authorities straight to the suspected criminals.

Latham said he is glad social media had a positive impact, but noted that isn’t always the case.

“The relationship between social networking and law enforcement is like many things – it can be a blessing, and it can be a curse,” he said.

Leaking sensitive information

Latham said it is now common for victims of a burglary, robbery or theft to post information about the on-going investigation on Facebook. The victims do so to vent about the stressful incident, but in the process, they also end up sharing sensitive details that can hinder a case.

Law enforcement officials say that sharing things like how their home or car was broken into, as well as listing the specific items that were stolen, can actually make it more difficult for authorities to catch the culprit.

“If that post or information gets back to the criminal, they can ditch those items before we even get to them,” Latham said. “They can throw the tool they used during a forced entry into the Ohio River. Those are crucial pieces of evidence that we simply can’t trace back to them now.” * * *

When criminals catch themselves

Criminals can use social media to their advantage, but they can incriminate themselves, too.

Latham said many people might not realize that things they share online can be used to build a case against them, and even become evidence if the case goes to court.

“We’ve had convicted felons post pictures of themselves holding guns, and teenagers driving past cops while smoking a joint,” the deputy said. “There have been people holding stolen items, and they brag about how they obtained those items.”

The false sense of security that comes with sharing information behind a screen is just that – an illusion. More frequently, law enforcement officers and courts in Indiana are using these items as evidence.

In 2014, the Indiana Court of Appeals broadened the admissibility of social media content as evidence in the case of Wilson v. State of Indiana. If a witness can verify that the suspect posted an incriminating photo, video or status, those things can be used as a piece of supporting evidence in the case.

ILB: The opinion is Donnell D. Wilson v. State, April 30, 2015. ILB summary here, 3rd case.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 1, 2017 10:08 AM
Posted to Indiana Government