Are social networks helping or hurting crime solving?

There’s no faster way to find someone than to post their picture onto BlackBerry Messenger (BBM)—or so it seems anyway. To speed up the process one might even consider adding a detailed BBM blast, otherwise known as a broadcast message. As of late BlackBerries and social networking sites have become the fastest way to get news out. But given recent trends in ‘Blackberry News,” organizations like the Community Action Program for Safety (CAPS) and the police wonder just how safe the practice really is.
Over the weekend news that a lawyer was assaulted in her home spread like wildfire. With the amount of information being sent out, BlackBerry owners in particular likely felt as if they had special access to a police line, but the information being sent out had very little to do with the Royal St Lucia Police Force at all.
Hours after the incident there was literally no way the offender could walk around the island unrecognized. He was “armed and dangerous” and everyone was their own private investigator, camera phones at the ready! His picture was circulated on Facebook, through BlackBerry messenger, and all over the weekend broadcast messages were sent out with information concerning the incident.
One of the first broadcast messages read: “Guys there is a criminal on the loose he is armed and dangerous. He brutally beat up a lawyer last night at her house she is in a critical condition at the hospital. He goes by the name [name deleted]. Please broadcast.”
A short time after came a second message from numerous sources: “Picture of criminal on the loose. Brutally beat up a lawyer and is armed, goes by the name of [name deleted]. Rebroadcast so this guy gets caught.”
A link was also posted with a photo allegedly of the man in question. The names used in the first and second message were obviously very different, yet both messages kept circulating. The series of messages ended on Sunday, May 15 with: “Police have caught the guy who assaulted Delia Daniel. He was allegedly found in Vieux-Fort and was shot in the process.”
Linwall James, a consultant for CAPS spoke out about the whole BBM broadcast issue he felt could be dangerous and could cause more harm than good.
“It could cause more embarrassment than anything else, so it’s not a means we fully support,” he told the STAR. “The problem is this, I’d rather them giving the information to the police than circulating it over their social networks. It could be dangerous, unless you’re sure.”
James added: “We do ask the public to share information with the police first, but sending it over the BlackBerry and other social mediums, I’m not happy about that. I’d rather if they were to call, use the crime hotline to give information. Using the BB is not a means I would support . . . ”
“It could be the wrong person, you could never tell,” he continued. “That could cause more embarrassment and panic than anything else. I’ve seen too many instances of wrong information going out.”
When asked whether the police should use social networks more to their advantage, James agreed there were benefits, but felt police should not make it their main means of getting information.
“The police should not encourage it, but if they see things to their advantage on social networks or the like, they could use it to assist them in their investigations,” James said. “The information did not come from the police, it came form the public who felt they were doing something to help. I saw the messages like everyone else, but I didn’t act on it. There’s no guarantee that was what caused the police to get the suspect, because I’m sure the police would have known who he was. It’s mere coincidence possibility that it came out that way, that’s how I see it.”

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