Social media used for criminal investigations


Last updated 8/24/2011 at Noon

Point. Click. Gotcha!

One of the signs of the time in this age of technology has been the near-recent creation of social networking. People of all ages, from children to grandparents and all ages in-between post pictures, videos and text about their daily lives on networking profiles such as those offered by Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. It has become a common thing — even for criminals and those under police investigation.

And, that is where the law steps in.

Just run a search on police and social networking on an online search engine, and stories pop up from all across the country: Police catching criminals, doing investigations, recovering cash and stolen property, etc. — all from finding clues on social networking sites.

But, this isn’t just a national trend. It goes on right here in Orange County too.

Sgt. Chad Hogan, an investigator with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, monitors Facebook and other networking sites to aid him in his investigations, as well as other Web sites like which can track and help recover stolen property among its uses.

“How we use social networking depends on the crime,” Hogan said. “For instance, if we are looking into a homicide, we can contact the companies like MySpace and Facebook and get their cooperation. But, for other things we will just monitor the profiles of the ones we are investigating.”

Some people place their profiles on private viewing, but not everyone does — and Hogan said that sometimes he is amazed by what he sees online.

“You may question a suspect and they will tell you that they don’t do those things or hang out with the people they are being questioned about,” he said. “But, then you go browse their profile and there they are, posting pictures of them doing the very things they said they were not doing or hanging out with the people they said they were not hanging out with.

“Sometimes they’ll air out their dirty laundry in posts, and it’s stuff I have no idea why they would ever make public. I never cease to be amazed.”

Hogan said that besides social networking, there are other programs that they use that help them track stolen property and pawn-shop tickets, and those that help them track people, such as suspects and child predators, and all their last known locations.

They also have programs to help them track child pornographers.

“All we have to do is type in certain keywords, and the program will do the searches,” he said.

Hogan said that while their number of resources to use online may not be as extensive as other agencies, they are linked to other law enforcement that can help them utilize more methods of getting information.

“We have a lot of resources and tools that we can use online,” he said. “We are also tied into a lot of federal agencies that we can turn to in investigations and work together with.”

But, criminals are not the only ones that can be snared by an online faux pas, Hogan said.

“We also use social networking to screen applicants that we have here at the sheriff’s department,” he said. “People need to be careful what they post on things like their Facebook profile.”

And, speaking of Facebook, you can search Orange County Sheriff’s Department and “Like” them, as they have their own page where they post up events, news, and other information.

“Currently, we have over 2,000 friends on Facebook,” Hogan said. “We get a lot of hits, as we use it to get out information about anything that the public may need to know about.

“Technology isn’t perfect, as computers can always go down and things like that. But, as more and more things go digital and technology-oriented, it certainly makes our job easier for the most part.”


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