Investigators will also use social media platforms to actively locate a suspect. This is often done in narrow cases, Altschuler said, such as a focused and coordinated attack on child pornography rings. One strong characteristic of such criminals is that they are collectors, and almost always reach out to share with other collectors. If law enforcement officers can leverage a known suspect's knowledge, they can use that to identify other suspects. If they're lucky, Altschuler added, they can flip the suspect and gain knowledge about other criminal activity and persons through that person's own account.
Barricades to use
Even though two-thirds of agencies surveyed believe that social media helps to solve crimes more quickly, not every officer is able to implement social media as much as they could.
37% of respondents said they were unable to access social media during work hours citing department regulations and technology obstacles to using social media. 17% said they simply didn't have enough time, and a full third of law enforcement personnel believed they don't have enough knowledge to use social media properly.
The knowledge gap is pretty wide, too. 80% of law enforcement described themselves as self-taught in social media skills for investigations either by navigating social media sites, or bringing their own knowledge of using social media tools.
That statistic is likely discouraging to someone such as Cynthia Navarro, owner of Finnegan's Way, a consulting firm that specializes in training police on how to use social media more effectively for investigative work.
Navarro often works with agencies with little-to-no previous technical expertise amongst the front-line police.
"Law enforcement is not within the technology world, and often this is their first exposure to this kind of information," Navarro said.
But they learn fast, and are often surprised by the amount of information about criminal suspects that can be found on the Internet.
Navarro demonstrates to her students just how much information is available, and more importantly where it is found and how to better conduct searches. Usually, as an example, Navarro will reveal detailed information about the officers themselves to underscore the value of social media, and to help them understand the need to lock down their own online presences.
"Google only gives them three percent of what's really out there," Navarro said. She instructs police to look beyond basic search sites, and actually search on the social media platforms themselves.