Social media plays key role in fighting crime

By: WCTV Eyewitness News
November 1, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Social media continues changing our lives, helping us document the unique and even the mundane. What we eat, what we wear, how we feel... all of it is fair game. Whether you love it or hate it, social media is also impacting something else; it’s now considered a very powerful tool for fighting crime.

Click, post, like-- it’s all part of the daily grind.

Forecasts predict that in 2019, 2.8 billion of us nationwide will be a bit closer, thanks to social media.

Features we eat up, such as livestreams and the ability to "publish now", are helping take a bite out of crime.

Rachelle Denmark is an officer with the Tallahassee Police Department and runs the department's Facebook and Twitter pages.

Since she started in 2015, she's seen a drastic increase in the public's engagement with the department’s posts.

Office Denmark says, "We noticed that the number of followers just increased, and increased, and increased, and people were very interested in what goes on with law enforcement as it pertains to the community, and why would they not be?"

Denmark says social media’s most valuable function is allowing information and pictures to be widely shared-- something that was actually quite difficult in the past.

"We've taken to social media to share the video footage, or still shots, and ask people, 'Hey, do you recognize this person?" Denmark says. "Somebody knows something somewhere, somebody knows this person, they have friends and family. We've had people's mothers call and say, 'That's my son, and I'm telling you this because I don't want them to do anymore.'"

It's not just changing how law enforcement works, but also how the entire legal system works.

"As social media changes, the courts have to face issues that they haven't faced before," says Chuck Earhardt, a law professor at Florida State University.

Earhardt specializes in evidence and says the authenticity of a post is the first step to making it admissible in court. The judge must decide if it’s legitimate.

"For all evidence, the party offering it has to demonstrate that it's authentic or genuine," Earhardt explains.

That means no hacker or third-party messages will work.

"You're going to have to demonstrate that that fairly depicts something that is relevant in this case," Earhardt says.

While it may seem simple, there's no black and white answer for what can be deemed either admissible or inadmissible.

"There's no brightline test, there's no list that has to be checked off. That is a question for the judge, to say is there evidence sufficient to show that the person aho apparently sent the message, or posted the image, actually did it," Earhardt says.

It's creating a future of crime and punishment that's changing as rapidly as your timeline.

To keep up with the Tallahassee Police Department, you can follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

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