The Howard County Police recently reported that social media has led to the arrest of two burglary suspects, whose crime spree spanned multiple counties. One of the suspects is a 46 year-old male, while the other is a 22 year-old female. Both are accused of felony first-degree burglary and theft in Howard County and in Baltimore County, and the pair is currently in custody awaiting trial in the Baltimore County Detention center. Other charges include 4th degree burglary and false documentation. The alleged burglaries, which occurred 10 days apart back in August, have been indicted by a grand jury and will now be brought before a circuit court judge. The two suspects were not caught in the act, and managed to steer clear of law enforcement for almost a month. Ultimately though the pair was identified after the Howard County Police utilized social media in an attempt to generate leads. The modern crime-solving tool proved successful; arrest warrants were issued in the first week of September and both suspects were jailed less than two weeks later.
While police have only been utilizing social media for a few years, this crime-solving tactic has gained a tremendous amount of steam. Almost every law enforcement agency in the country has some sort of social media outlet such as Twitter or Facebook, and now it has become commonplace to ask the public for tips through these outlets. Law enforcement embraces the same benefits of social media as any business or private citizen. Social medial allows police to reach a large number of people at a fraction of the effort and cost of traditional methods such as billboard or television. The Howard County Police Department has roughly 38 thousand followers on Twitter, and can reach each of these followers immediately with a two-line tweet that takes a minute to type. The Baltimore County Police Department is a little behind with roughly 13 thousand followers, but even with this smaller number the effects can be considerable.
In addition to police departments soliciting information about crime through their own posts and tweets, law enforcement also takes advantage of social media in other ways. There have been numerous cases where police linked up stolen property to a person’s Facebook account. This usually occurs when the thief is attempting to sell the hot goods online, but it could also be in the form of posts and pictures of the suspects with the stolen property. In other crimes, Twitter accounts could also reveal where a suspect was at a specific time, and whom that suspect was with. Police detectives have now made it a habit to scan the social media accounts of all their suspects. In criminal cases involving juvenile or young adults police will often scan the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts of friends and classmates of the defendants and victims. The results have ranged from generating probable cause for a warrant, all the way up to providing prosecutors with evidence at trial. Defense attorneys are now seeing discovery packets laced with screen shots and printouts from social media sites. The public format of these sites makes the evidence difficult to suppress, as no warrants are required to scan a person’s Facebook or Twitter accounts.
Law enforcement across the country will continue to utilize social media to solve crime, and the Blog may post a follow up article the next time a major case is cracked using this pervasive technology. Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland state and federal criminal defense lawyer who handles all charges including burglary and theft. Contact Benjamin for a free consultation at 410-207-2598.