Blog: #Wanted on #WarrantWednesday

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Patty_Hearst_FBI_posterBy: Milena Radovic, Associate Manuscripts Editor

In March 2015, Butler County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio posted a series of pictures and brief criminal history of Andrew Marcum on its Facebook page.[1]  The Sheriff’s Office requested that the public help in locating Mr. Marcum[2] because he was wanted for “burglary, kidnapping, domestic violence and criminal endangering.”[3]  Surprisingly, Mr. Marcum commented on the post and stated, “I ain’t tripping half of them don’t even know me.”[4]  Subsequently, the Sheriff’s Office responded with “If you could stop by the Sheriff’s Office, that’d be great,”[5] and then stated, “Hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask.”[6]  On Twitter, the Sheriff Richard K. Jones posted a picture of a jail cell with the caption “Hey Andrew Marcum we’ve got your room ready…”[7]  The following day the Sheriff’s Office arrested Mr. Marcum.[8]

Posts like the one by Butler County Sheriff’s Office are not uncommon. More and more police stations are utilizing social media websites, like Facebook and Twitter to catch criminals and request tips.[9]  These social media posts are essentially “electronic versions of traditional wanted posters,” and often include “a photo, description of the individual and crime, and a contact number for tips.”[10]  In order to protect the anonymity of tipsters and informants, law enforcement departments encourage the community to provide information through phone calls or emails and not directly through comments.[11]

In New York, Illinois, Colorado, and even Canada, police departments use “#warrantwednesday” on social media to catch criminals, while Florida and Indiana utilize “Turn ’em in Tuesday.”[12]  In 2014, New York State Police arrested fifteen as a result of #warrantwednesday posts and in total, arrested twenty-nine people as a result of tips received through social media.  According to Darcy Wells of the New York State Police, there is a spike in Facebook page activity on Warrant Wednesdays, and “Twitter town halls have increased the agency’s Twitter followers—which, ultimately, can help solve crimes and promote public safety.[13]

According to a study by LexisNexis, law enforcement “increasingly [rely] on social media tools to prevent crime, accelerate case closures and develop a dialogue with the public.”[14]  Although it is not rare for police to use social media to catch criminals, this method seems to be far less controversial.  In the past, police departments have faced criticism for using Facebook to catch criminals by creating fake profiles and gaining access to private information through a user’s Facebook friends.[15]  Ultimately, this method may be more effective in creating goodwill and promoting cooperation between citizens and the police.

 

[1]Tracy Bloom, Wanted Man Arrested in Ohio After Responding to Sheriff’s Facebook Post About Him, KTLA5 (Mar. 4, 2015, 8:55 AM), http://ktla.com/2015/03/04/wanted-man-arrested-in-ohio-after-responding-to-sheriffs-facebook-post-about-him/

[2] Bloom, supra note 1.

[3] Faith, Karimi, Ohio fugitive nabbed after taunting authorities on Facebook, CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/05/us/ohio-facebook-post-arrest/ (last updated Mar. 5, 2015, 9:46 AM).

[4] Bloom, supra note 1; see also Karimi, supra note 3.

[5] Bloom, supra note 1; see also Karimi, supra note 3.

[6] Bloom, supra note 1.

[7] Bloom, supra note 1; see also Karimi, supra note 3.

[8] Bloom, supra note 1; see also Karimi, supra note 3.

[9] See Judy Sutton Taylor, #WarrantWednesdays: Law enforcement jumps on a social media trend to help find criminals, ABA Journal, Mar. 2015, at 9, available at http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/law_enforcement_jumps_on_warrantwednesdays_trend_to_help_find_criminals/?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tech_monthly (the title of the online version is Law enforcement jumps on #WarrantWednesdays trend to help find criminals).

[10] Taylor, supra note 9, at 9.

[11] See Taylor, supra note 9, at 9–10.

[12] See Taylor, supra note 9, at 10.

[13] Taylor, supra note 9, at 9–10.

[14] Lexis Nexis, Social Media Use in Law Enforcement:Crime prevention and investigative activities continue to drive usage 3 (2014), available at http://www.lexisnexis.com/risk/downloads/whitepaper/2014-social-media-use-in-law-enforcement.pdf.

[15] See Heather Kelly, Police embrace social media as crime-fighting tool, Facebook, CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/30/tech/social-media/fighting-crime-social-media/ (last updated Aug. 30, 2012, 5:23 PM).