Police use Facebook to nab crooks

Web-savvy coppers are starting to use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to catch crooks.

In New Zealand, local police arrested a man after posting security camera images of a would-be safecracker on Facebook. The bungled burglary attempt occurred in Queenstown, New Zealand. The man broke through the ceiling of the Frankton Arms Tavern in the early hours of the morning and spent about an hour, using an angle grinder and crowbar, trying to break into a safe containing the bar's takings of about $20,000. But after getting too hot, the burglar removed his balaclava, only to reveal his face to the security camera. Ooops.

Police posted the hilarious footage of the burglar on Facebook and asked the public to identify their man. And it worked, according to Constable Sean Drader who labelled it the "first Facebook arrest".

"I've never met a burglar that I thought was bright. I'm pretty sure someone will recognise him."

Although it claims to be a world-first Facebook arrest, the use of Web 2.0 tools by police is steadily increasing. The Boston Globe contacted 14 law enforcement agencies in the Boston area, and over half revealed that they use social networking sites to collect evidence. Officers check the profiles of crime victims and look at their friends and recent online activities to track their movements. They often create a fake profile to gain access to information and even trick suspects into accepting a police department employee as a friend, which would give police full access to the suspect's online profile.

The article states:

"In a recent photo he used in his profile, [Chief Edward] Denmark appears as a singer from the 1970s with an Afro, long sideburns, and a flashy necklace. It's not him: Denmark says he changes the photo daily.
"Harvard Police Officer Daniele Fortunato is also on Facebook. If you had searched for her on the site recently, you would have found a cat in a white-and-red Christmas hat stretching out on a bed (it's her profile photo), while Harvard police Sergeant James Babu appears as a smiling pig, with big ears and perfect white teeth."

And it's not just local law enforcement, but state-wide and even national. The Boston Globe article says the Office of the Commissioner of Probations has an employee who checks the activity of juvenile probationers on Facebook, to see what mischief they may be planning, said Corea Holland, spokesman for the agency in Boston.


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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