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92% of U.S. law enforcement agencies use social media

In 2008, a Houston prosecutor used a defendant’s MySpace pages to help convict the man of murder. While the perpetrator appealed his conviction, the MySpace pages held up in appeals court as valid forms of evidence.

This is a guest post by Wai-Ming Yu, Managing Director, Accenture Police Services and Ger Daly, Global Managing Director, Accenture Public Safety.

Today’s police use social media to fight crime. The rise of social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram and even MySpace has aided crime-fighting by providing an additional fingerprint – one that is online and traceable.

In 2008, a Houston prosecutor used a defendant’s MySpace pages to help convict the man of murder. While the perpetrator appealed his conviction, the MySpace pages held up in appeals court as valid forms of evidence.

Police use of social media is on the rise, with detectives using social media to find clues, obtain search warrants and provide evidence for prosecutors. The most recent nationwide survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police released this past year reveals that police forces are turning to social media en masse to equip their operations. In fact, 92 percent of 600 law enforcement agencies reported using some form of social media, according to the survey.

Preventing Crime with Social Media Analytics

One of the most promising uses of social media is preventing crime with social media analytics. Once a fictional plot point in the 2002 movie “Minority Report,” today’s analytics tools allow detectives to review vast amounts of social media data to uncover patterns and monitor threats as they grow in significance, enabling early preventative policing.

For example, U.S. military are using analytics tools to track insurgents in Afghanistan and understand their social networks. This same technology is being adopted by police forces to identify members of urban gangs and gain intelligence on their criminal networks, helping police to intervene and disrupt gang formation and development before it becomes powerful and organized.

Spain’s Guardia Civil is testing an analytics pilot program to predict where and when burglaries may occur and to plan for increased service surrounding annual festivities and extreme weather events. The analytics program is designed to help Guardia Civil identify patterns from historical data to help map hotspots of where and when police services will likely be needed.

Solving Crimes Faster with a Trail of Digital Clues

Widespread adoption of social media in every industry begs the question, “Are police forces maximizing technology to fight crime and engage citizens?” Accenture research on the topic conducted across six countries, including the U.S., reveals that 88 percent of the public feel they have a role to play in crime fighting, and technology is helping this to happen.

With millions of citizens online, police forces are tapping into social media to engage and encourage citizens to provide information to support investigations, including anonymous tips, photographs to identify missing persons, accident reports, information about stolen property and even crime suspects.

In January 2012, the Spanish police called upon its 340,000 Twitter followers to crowd-source clues to help solve a case. Through their “Tweetredada” program, they received 2,500 messages relating to drug trafficking, which led to the arrest of 10 people.

Keeping Citizens Calm and Informed

While most citizens feel they have an important role to play in fighting crime, the vast majority (84 percent) of almost 1,300 respondents say they are only minimally informed of local police activities. This points to a gap between citizen expectations and day-day use of social media by police to communicate. To help support police forces in successfully using social media to engage citizens and fight crime, the International Association of Chiefs of Police have developed a guide to social media titled, ‘Ready, Set, Go, Creating an Engaging Social Media Presence’ that was released at this year’s conference in Philadelphia last week.

A prime example of using social media to engage citizens is the Boston Police Department, who used Twitter to send out immediate updates after the Boston Marathon explosions. Now, the Boston Police Department has more than 250,000 Twitter followers and continues to use social media to maintain two-way communication with citizens.

Companies: Accenture / Philadelphia Police Department

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