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How social media is changing the way people commit crimes and how police fight it

Social media has changed the way we communicate and the way criminals do as well. From bragging about crimes to escalating gang violence, social media is becoming a new form of "street" to police for Baltimore police. (Photo: MGN Online)

BALTIMORE (WBFF) -- Social media has changed the way we communicate and the way criminals do as well. From bragging about crimes to escalating gang violence, social media is becoming a new form of "street" to police for Baltimore police.

YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, social media platforms are fueling violent confrontations. Like businesses and brands, gangs often use social media to promote their image.

Baltimore Police Department's acting research analyst supervisor, Joe Orenstein, says "We often see rivalries form or get pushed forward in social media and we can definitely see that evolving."

Baltimore Police Lt. Jarron Jackson says, "As a police department we would be irresponsible if we didn’t take advantage of that public information that was out there."

On such a public forum, Baltimore Police see it as an opportunity to move patrols from the street to the screen. Jackson says, "Social media is tremendously important, it’s the new community per-se and we have officers walk in that community as we would have them walk any other street in Baltimore."

They are mining social for clues, Orenstein says, "We have dedicated research analysts looking at social media on a mostly regular basis."

Orenstein has a group of officers looking specifically at crime and gang activity online. "They often find guns, drugs, cash," he continues, "they also look for help with ID's that police detectives send out. Whether it's homicide detectives or gang detectives, they’re really just here to help the department."

The amount of analysts working at any time varies based on what's happening in the city. There's an increase for big events like 4th of July or if the Department is noticing dangerous trends. "A few years ago we had a large spike in homicides shootings over the summer," Orenstein recalls, "that put the focus on analysts to track down the suspects or suspects associates and we used social media for that to link people that may not have been arrested together or may not have been previously known to hang out together."

There can be public anxiety about police navigating social media, but Jackson emphasizes that they are only searching public information. He says it's like walking down a hall and looking through an open doorway. "If you decide to shut that door and make everything private we can’t see it or we have to go through the court system to open it," Jackson says, "the same way we get a search warrant for a house. What we’re looking at is just public information."

Using the right analysis can stop crime before it happens. Orenstein says, "In the war room especially, a group of detectives and intel officers come together to talk about crimes that they’re seeing. People that shouldn’t be there are there and they want to know why and often it’s answered right on social media."

Jackson says it's a powerful tool, "Social media is a great medium for getting information and we would be remised if we didn’t use that technology to help people. It’s there and it's posted publicly so we have to use it."

A process of using book smarts to fight street smarts and hopefully prevent crimes before they happen.

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