Infographic: How police investigators are using social media

An overwhelming majority of investigators using social media for investigative purposes are “self taught,” according to a new survey of 1,200 Federal, state, and local law enforcement professionals.

The nationwide survey — conducted in a partnership between PoliceOne and LexisNexis Risk Solutions — offers extensive insight into how social media is influencing police investigations.

For example, roughly four of five respondents currently using social media anticipate using it even more in the future, and 74 percent of those not currently using it indicated they intend to start doing so in the foreseeable future.

Half of all respondents use social media at least on a weekly basis, and two-thirds believe that social media helps solve crimes more quickly.

“Investigation and analysis of social media content provides a huge opportunity in terms of crime prevention and offender apprehension,” Samantha Gwinn, Government Solutions Consultant for LexisNexis Risk Solutions, told PoliceOne. 

Gwinn has 12 years of experience as a crime analyst at local and federal law enforcement agencies, and believes strongly that “as law enforcement personnel continue to participate in formal training and gain an increased comfort level with the power and scope of social media, as well as its limitations, the value it provides will continue to rise.”

Research suggests that Gwinn’s opinion is echoed across the law enforcement community, who also see the value social media provides in terms of crime prevention and investigation. One officer indicated anecdotal evidence that social media provided information on at least one recent case. 

In that instance, a subject had allegedly made a “terroristic threat involving students in a local high school. Further investigation (utilizing Facebook) revealed the threats were credible and officers conducted follow-up investigations which revealed a student intent on harming others. The student was in the process of attempting to acquire weapons.  It’s my belief we avoided a ‘Columbine’ type scenario.”

The research conducted in March 2012 assessed the law enforcement community’s understanding of, proclivity to use, and actual use of social media, and aimed to better understand acceptability thresholds of various types of investigative techniques and current resources and processes being used.

The survey solicited feedback from individuals representing a wide variety of law enforcement agencies — from rural localities to major metropolitan cities to federal agencies — producing a comprehensive view of the social media landscape. All of the survey respondents are active-duty law enforcement professionals ranging in age, experience, and job level.

A great many other findings were apparent in the survey, some of which are indicated in the infographic below (click to enlarge).  What do you take from it? Post your thoughts in the comments section. 

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor at Large for PoliceOne, responsible for providing police training content and expert analysis on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 900 feature articles and tactical tips. Doug is also responsible for planning and recording the PoliceOne Podcast, Policing Matters, as well as being the on-air host for PoliceOne Video interviews. Doug also works closely with the PoliceOne Academy to develop training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Doug regularly represents PoliceOne as a public speaker in a variety of forums and is available for media interviews — he has appeared on numerous local and national radio and television news programs, and has been quoted in a host of print publications. 

Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Contact Doug Wyllie

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