North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

Can social media hinder police, help criminals?

 


Just last month Washington state patrol, the Seattle police and seven other agencies began a campaign entitled “Tweetsmart,” which is meant to educate citizens about the hazards of social media when police are trying to apprehend or search for a suspect or when they are in the middle of a crime scene.

It seems that law enforcement is concerned that photos taken or comments made to Twitter could not only give criminals an upper hand but it can also at police officers in danger.

One example used in an article written by the Associated Press mentioned that as far back as 2009 when police officers were looking for a man suspected of shooting four police officers in a Lakewood coffee shop, social media users were online trying to figure out what police were doing.

“At the time, people speculated online about why police were combing a Seattle park while a search was on for the man,” the article stated.

Social media also went crazy when police in Boston were searching for the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing.

On one side of the argument people are calling for transparency from government, including their local police. However, others worry that putting police and the public in danger by letting criminals know what is happening second by second is too big a risk.

When schools are put on lockdown these days parents are calling the schools or districts before staff has time to write an email to parents letting them know what is happening. This is because of smartphones and of course, texting.

Parents then put it on Facebook to let other parents know and teenagers open up Twitter.

In most cases this is a harmless act that won’t put anyone in danger, however, in some instances lives can be put in jeopardy.

Tweeting that fact that you see S.W.A.T. surrounding a building probably isn’t the shrewdest thing to do.

We also can’t expect our local police, especially in smaller cities, to stop and update social media when they are in the middle of a search or stand off.

I keep thinking about the night that Molly Conley was killed on the streets of Lake Stevens. I think of how horrible it would have been for her parents to open up Facebook and see a photo of their daughter before they had a chance to hear the tragic news from the police.

Tipping off the suspect, who lived in Marysville, by tweeting the fact that police were surrounding his home could have made it difficult for police to apprehend him.

People need to stop and think before they just start posting everything to social media.

Ask yourself, is this really necessary? Is it helpful? Could someone be in danger if I post this?

Lake Stevens police both has a crime-mapping tool on their website so that residents can see where and when crimes are taking place within the city. These tools are there to not only help citizens but to also ensure that the departments are transparent.

The lesson is that safety should always come first.

 

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