11/05/2012

Viral photos, videos help police catch suspects

The community is acting as 'Big Brother' using camera phones, social media

By PoliceOne Staff

SAN FRANCISCO — Viral photos and videos are being hailed as a useful tool in catching suspects in the wake of violence that erupted in the wake of the San Francisco Giants'  World Series celebrations.

The suspect who smashed a Muni bus windshield using a police barrier in downtown San Francisco was arrested two days after the incident, thanks to photos and video taken that instantly went viral. 

"His photo went all over the world," said Susan Giffin, a civilian employee who manages the computer crime data warehouse for the SFPD.

"There was a post in the United Kingdom that said, 'If this is what Americans do when they win, what do they do when they lose?' Giffin told SFGate.

It’s instances like this that have turned the privacy debate upside down.  The notion to place police surveillance cameras at high-crime locations in the city was turned down seven years ago but, according to the article, cell phone cameras have essentially filled that void.

The community, rather than law enforcement, is inadvertently acting as Big Brother by posting live content to social media outlets.

Search warrants aren’t necessary to probe the material, because it becomes public information, Giffin said.  

"This is giving the public a place to go to report," says Giffin. "People don't want to get involved physically, but they do want to post on a blog anonymously."

However, Police Chief Greg Suhr cautioned bystanders to use discretion while filming.

"Do it discreetly," he said. "If someone sees you and confronts you, don't fight to hang on to your phone."

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