Police using Facebook, Twitter & Instagram for cyber-detective work

Several recent crimes in the Valley have been solved with the help of social media.
January 30, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
As millions of us have taken our social interactions online to places like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, police are following the conversation.

Several recent crimes in the Valley have been solved with the help of social media.

"LMAO. AWWROOFFF."

An otherwise meaningless comment on the Action News Facebook page took on a criminal meaning when seen through the eyes of a Fresno police officer.

Alan Duncan, Jr., ended up with a new felony drug conviction after the comment prompted a probation search.

"They love to talk about themselves," said Lt. Mark Salazar with the Fresno Police Department. "They love to show their gang signs. They love to show who they represent and they shout out pretty loud and clear and we're there monitoring it."

Lieutenant Mark Salazar's teams that rely on social media to bolster their traditional investigative work. Detectives still pound the pavement, knock on doors, and squeeze information from anyone they can. But now, sometimes that information is posted in a public setting for anyone to see.

Just last week, detectives tracked down Jo Jo Chanla with an assist from social media. The teenager shot at officers in Central Fresno. He then made himself easy to identify.

Lt. Mark Salazar explained, "On Chanla's Facebook it shows him wearing a Dallas Cowboys hat and on the night of the shooting, he had a Dallas Cowboy hat."

Pictures on Instagram have also led to arrests, and conversations on Twitter can reveal evidence, 140 characters at a time.

With more than a billion social media users, the amount of information may seem overwhelming. But police can get help monitoring the sites. Data consulting firms like BrightPlanet will do it for a fee.

Tyson Johnson with BrightPlanet said, "If you are tweeting certain key words or certain phrases that relate to potential gang activity or violence etc. And we were looking for, then we would harvest that tweet."

Clovis police famously cracked the case of the stolen iPad using social media. The suspect's selfies ended up in the owner's cloud account. When they reached the police Facebook page, the woman turned herself in.

But social media is mainly a tool to harvest good will for Clovis officers. They use Twitter and Facebook to give traffic warnings, talk about pet adoptions, and interact with Clovisians. But those interactions can also lead to tips when the discussion turns to criminal investigations.

Ty Wood with the Clovis Police Department explained, "We do use social media as an investigative tool. We wouldn't be doing our jobs if we didn't."

Some police agencies dedicate entire teams to just monitoring social media. None of them are in the Valley, but Fresno police say increased monitoring is a goal for 2014.

Lt. Mark Salazar added, "We just know that to impact our violent crime, we need to get right in the middle of our gang feuds and monitoring - not just passively monitoring, but being active with the social media side of it - is going to help us fight our crime rates."

And that's anything but meaningless.


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