NYPD in Ur Computer, Checking Ur Tweets? Other Cities Do it Too

| August 11, 2011 5:33 PM

Brash Twitter users might find the NYPD at their door. The department's new social media unit plans to bolster police activity online. Flickr/ Sean Mactree.

While politicians were (hopefully) schooled in the unsavory usage of social media by the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal, there’s now another group that ought to heed the perils of  overshares on Facebook, Youtube and Twitter: criminals.

The New York City Police Department has formed the juvenile justice unit, a new special team designed to track criminals on social media platforms, according to reports on Wednesday.

The unit will be headed by Assistant Commissioner Kevin O’Connor, who, appropriately enough, is 23 years old, reported New York Magazine. The young lieutenant quickly shot through the ranks after he used social media to solve a number of connected shooting cases in Manhattan. O’Connor’s team — operating under the Community Affairs Bureau — will track suspects and fugitives through social media in the hopes that they will give themselves away in a fit of bragging, as criminals are sometimes wont to do. Check out the evidence:

  • In 2010, DNAinfo reported on New York City gangs using social media to organize criminal activities, pick fights and boast of their accomplishments.

But the NYPD’s social media unit isn’t an original concept. In recent months, police departments across the country have formed similar teams:

  • In April, panelists at the LexisNexis Government Insight Conference in Washington discussed the topic of law enforcement and social media, reported Government Computer News. The chief of the Cincinnati Police Department described how his city’s police force had teamed up with graduate students to create crime fighting social media utilities.
  • In March, Philadelphia Police created a program called “Video Villains,” which involves posting videos and photos of wanted criminals on Youtube and Flickr, reported Philadelphia Crime News.

While some New York City residents are comfortable with the NYPD snooping around people’s personal social media accounts if it will mean a reduction in homicides, as New York 1 reported on Wednesday, other groups detect a whiff of privacy invasion in the police department’s tactics.

The New York Civil Liberties Union posted several tweets expressing their concern.

“And now, the #NYPD is patrolling our pages – nydn.us/ozZ6W9, Yikes! Do you feel like your #privacy is protected on #facebook?” tweeted @nyclu on Wednesday morning.

The NYCLU also tweeted on Wednesday that police departments across the state are posting criminal’s mug shots on department Facebook pages, including the Utica Police Department.

Besides posting mug shots and trolling for online evidence of gang activity and recent murders,the NYPD’s social media unit will also be on the lookout for house parties, particularly those of the “freaky” variety.

In June, a raucous house party in East New York, advertised on Facebook as the “Freaky Friday” party, ended in a deadly shooting, reported the Huffington Post. Shortly afterward, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said, “We look at social networking. We’re very much focused on weekend parties, the type of parties that happened last weekend, and we visit them ahead of time. But not every one of these parties happen at a place we can readily identify…Our gang division, our borough personnel look at party advertisements. A lot of these things are at peoples’ apartments.”

The Daily News wrote, “The power of social media to empower both criminals and cops has been on full display in London this week, where riots and looting have been spreading dramatically,” suggesting that the new social media unit was designed with the prevention of wide-scale, Twitter-enabled uprisings in mind.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/RBLIBKYQVTOVGWNL27QKPVMDTE Cait O'Connor

      trust me, Assistant Commissioner knows a lot about computers–he knows a lot about abusing his power and manipulating people, too. I’m sure he’s such a ‘hero’ for keeping NYC streets safe starting online.

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