Scotland Yard pokes crooks on Facebook
Policing 2.0: From Flying squad to surfing squad
Scotland Yard has set up a team to monitor social networking websites such as Facebook and YouTube for snippets of intelligence from clueless crooks who brag about their exploits online.
Officers from the Met's newly established Open Source Team surf websites and infiltrate chatrooms, without disclosing their identities, to gain intelligence. It's far removed from the traditional image of coppers, as epitomised by Det Inspector Jack Regan from landmark '70s cop show The Sweeney, grilling their snouts for leads down the pub over a bottle of whisky, but Scotland Yard says the changed approach is appropriate for changed times.
A Met Police spokesman explained that the service monitors a wide variety of social networking forums such as My Space, Facebook, and Friends Reunited, for example.
Undercover work online has helped in the detection of crimes including child abuse and fraud. Detectives have also spied on suspected gun smugglers and drug dealers.
In one example a subject found on MySpace was pictured in a car park carrying what appeared to be a Mach 10 sub machine gun. The 15 year-old was subsequently traced to an estate in Tottenham, north London. He was arrested and charged, later pleading guilty to possession of an imitation firearm and receiving a 10-month referral order, the Daily Mail reports.
The team passes on intelligence profiles to other squads who ask for their help. Street names and telephone numbers are gathered online and used to piece together links between gangs and their associates.
"Social network profiles (not specific to Facebook) can reveal colours such as bandanas. Any telephone numbers that are on a profile are passed on to the relevant unit. Street names are used to link associates," A Scotland Yard statement explained.
Det Chief Supt Martin Hewitt, head of the Metropolitan Police's Intelligence Bureau, explained: "Like the general public, who are increasingly using technology to communicate, criminals are also increasingly using it - including as a tool to organise their crimes. Therefore, the internet offers a wealth of information that we are able to monitor and use to prevent and detect crimes.
"We are seeing occasions where chatrooms and social networking sites are being used to boast about crimes. Cutting edge techniques and technology, as well as good old fashioned thorough intelligence work, is enabling us to turn the tables on the criminals," he added.
As well as bragging of past exploits, some crooks are even stupid enough to talk about upcoming blags.
One senior Yard officer told The Telegraph: "We have been amazed to discover that not only are they boasting about past crimes. They are also boasting about crimes they are about to carry out in the near future.
"The internet is particularly useful for keeping tabs on gangs from various areas who issues threats and taunts against one another online."
Earlier this month, an Old Bailey trial heard testimony about how Paul Erhahon, 14, was stabbed through the heart by a gang called the Cathall Street Bois who frequently boasted of their exploits on sites such as YouTube, the Daily Mail adds. ®
Sadly, there are more than enough low-life morons willing to 'big-up' their exploits to probably make such endeavours worthwhile. In any event such work would almost certainly be undertaken by civilian employees (that now make up to 50% of some Force's establishments).
Hitherto, such own-goal revelations have only tended to come to light once an investigation's run its course and usually then only by chance. Yes, of course there's issues of identity and intent but that's normally the case in practically every inquiry.
As for the justification on resourcing grounds, that's not always easy or straight forward to quantify. Your average murder enquiry, for example, will invariably require a prodigious investment in time, money and resources, and I mean truly huge. It all depends on the circumstances and it doesn't take much imagination to postulate seemingly unsolvable crimes; script writers do it all the time: random victim, no witnesses, no suspects etc, its seldom easy.
I've been involved in cases where numerous hunches, bogus confessions and plain old red herrings have led to an excess of 5000+ written statements being recorded, not to mention a couple of years hard slog, before good fortune leads to an offender. In such circumstances, every potential lead eventually becomes followed, no matter how tenuous. So an ongoing drip-feed of You-tube etc scrutiny may indeed pay dividends in the long term, though at first thought, it'll probably be about as elusive to quantify as trying to gauge the precise effects of crime prevention. Someone has clearly made a business case for it, I'll be interested to see how it pans out.
Incidentally, I never cease to be amazed that the higher a crime's profile, the more the deranged flock in their droves to 'confess' to it, regardless of consequence.
And with regard to the oft assumed harmlessness of imitation or replica weapons: firearms used in crime are seldom discharged, they don't have to be as the mere threat of use is sufficient. This effectively removes any practical difference between the real and the pretend as numerous successful armed robberies will evidence. Here, its the criminal's intention which is paramount. It gets really tough to deal with when they tell you they have a loaded weapon but you can't see it properly (in cover, darkness, under a coat etc). You really don't want to be stood out in the open when that happens as you very quickly start running out of options; but that's another story.
Furthermore, its not always obvious deciding when someone should be taken seriously or not. An unarmed colleague of mine once stupidly convinced himself that the small gobby 13 year old in the playground only had a toy gun until the little sod suddenly shot him in the cheekbone with a .22 pellet; I think that's called learning the hard way.
Are you checking out our comments now? In which case I'd like to apologise in advance for laughing at the govt.
Not that I would ever use Facebook anyway but...
Is this really a good use of resources?
And how much effort do they put into an investigation before they kick your door in?
After all, I could have pictures/video of myself doing 155mph on the A9 on my way to work in the morning. Would they bother checking it was done legally on the A9 Autobahn?
Or maybe the imagery of me in my office clothes, shooting with a Bundeswehr spec. G36 and a P8 in an unidentified industrial location? Would I get an armed response unit at my door? Or would they know that it was all fine and legal at the time?
Or what if there was something there completely made up?
Or something that someone else had invented to stitch me up?
Personally I think there's enough crime out in the real world that needs to be dealt with. If material on Facebook or wherever is a problem, they can deal with it when it's reported. Spending all day trawling for it is a waste of time.