With the recent capture of one of the FBI's Most Wanted through the use of social media and other arrests that have been made with the help of online sources, could it be time for law enforcement to start hiring online search and social experts to help in the fight against crime?
While the Department of Justice has their cyber crime unit, it concentrates on crimes done online – mostly computer crimes and intellectual property theft. Movie and music piracy and online sales of fake brand merchandise get a lot of attention, but the recent success of online information gathering to catch offline criminals suggests police forces across the country could do well hiring search and social media experts to improve their arrest numbers.
Last week, the FBI caught a fugitive they have sought for 16 years with some of the methods used by online marketers – behavioral targeting, Twitter, and Facebook. James "Whitey" Bulger, the Boston mobster who was the inspiration of Jack Nicholson's character in "The Departed," was captured after the FBI started running ads in places where women of the same age as his companion, Catherine Elizabeth Greig, might see them. According to The Washington Post:
"The level of detail was classic FBI. Greig likes beauty salons, loves animals and 'is likely to have well-kept teeth because she previously worked as a dental hygienist,' the bureau said in a news release Monday.
But the campaign was also sophisticated. The FBI paid about $50,000, mostly to run public service announcements in 14 cities, airing on shows with a high percentage of female viewers in the same age group as Greig, 60. The campaign followed an earlier effort to find Greig and Bulger in which the bureau bought ads in plastic surgery and dental association newsletters seeking doctors who had treated the couple."
There have been numerous other cases where social media has helped find criminals. One posted his whereabouts in Mexico to his friends on Facebook, that included a former Justice Department official. A teenager in Pennsylvania was caught for burglary when the homeowner noticed his Facebook page open on her computer, or the guy who was caught when the person he stole items from went looking on Craigslist for replacements only to see what was missing.
Given police 'search' for criminals, hiring good online search people – not just SEOs but those who understand Google and the other engines – would be helpful. Successful social media marketers could also add to crime fighting efforts. Those stings where the police send out invitations to people with warrants could be done effectively with the right Meetup or TweetUp gathering.
Numerous sites monitor scams both online and off; if law enforcement were to start a forum geared toward criminal behavior they could no doubt find all sorts of law breakers. Craigslist's 'erotic services' used to be a place police would find people working in the illegal sex trade until a large number of state attorneys general finally convinced the company to drop the category all together.
Given the numerous people using the web to commit crimes, police have started to develop skills to catch them. With the right filters and parameters, Google Alerts could email leads to the police. Hiring people with the right online skill set may be the future of crime fighting.