Social Cops

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Facebook can be used for more than just chatting.

The Newport Beach Police Department (NBPD) has used facebook and other social networking websites, as well as craigslist, to do research and locate stolen property.

“We regularly use craigslist” and other similar sites, said Newport Beach police Sgt. Steve Burdette.

Sites like craigslist come in handy when detectives are investigating the theft of something really unique, like a customized bike or a classic car.

“Something that is not readily available to the public,” Burdette said.

The criminal may make some minor changes like changing the license plate or vehicle identification number (VIN), but the article can still be identifiable by its characteristics.

When the investigators check craigslist and other sites, he said, they go into it looking for something related to a specific case they are working on – “a red flag,” Burdette said.

The process starts with the patrol officer taking a report from the victim of the crime, a bike theft for example. The officer will have the person describe the item in detail. If it is something unique or has a distinctive appearance, the patrol officer makes a special note of that before passing it on to investigators.

The investigators “look around craigslist and some other sites,” Burdette said, and if they find something “the investigator will run with it.”

Tips from the public or the victim of a crime will often come in, saying they saw stolen property on craigslist or some other classified, shopping or social networking site.

If they find the stolen property on one of the sites, police will meet with the seller to gather more information.

“They meet with the intention to conduct the investigation,” said Burdette, adding that they do not intend to arrest or take any action during the initial meeting, just find out more information.

“They take a lot of time investigating it,” he said. It may lead to another person or other stolen property, he said.

“(They don’t) just go out and grab the bike and grab the person,” Burdette said. “They exhaust all sources and all leads to complete the investigation.”

Investigators also sometimes check other social networking sites, like facebook or myspace, to help possibly find any evidence that the suspect committed the crime. Suspects sometimes post incriminating photos or information that can help investigators.

Younger criminals sometimes use facebook, myspace or other similar sites to communicate, said Burdette, but they don’t want the word to get out to too many people and are usually in one group of friends, so instead of posting something on a social networking website, they often text or call each other.

Burdette said the police are staying up to date the ever-changing world of the Internet. There is even an investigator dedicated to a task force all about computer crime, he said. So the police can access the same information the crooks have access to, he added.

“There are different ways to use it,” Burdette said. “For crooks and cops.”

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