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TMCNet:  Social Media Helping Police Solve Crimes

[March 06, 2012]

Social Media Helping Police Solve Crimes

Mar 06, 2012 (WXMI-TV - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Social media has become a huge part of our everyday lives.

We use it to connect with friends, meet people, network, and gather information about anything and everything.

More than ever, police across the country are logging in, to catch criminals and solve crimes.

Facebook and Twitter are about more than reconnecting with old pals. Detectives across the country are turning to social networking sites to piece together crimes.

"It's a very useful tool," says Lt. Mark Bennett, Ottawa County Sheriff's Department.

Lt. Bennett says it's been the crux of multiple investigations in west Michigan.

In 2007, 14 year old Felipe Van was shot and killed inside a home in Holland Township. The suspect was a 17 year old classmate named Antonio Liceaga.

Early on in the investigation, detectives came across a picture posted on the suspect's face book wall, of him posing with a gun.

"We did some comparison with the actual weapon that we had seized during the investigation of the crime and the photo itself," recalled Lt. Bennett "It was a match to the weapon collected at the murder scene." "It was very crucial for us to put that weapon in the hands of the defendant," Lt. Bennett went on to say.

"We were able to do that so 12:22:00 so that became a very integral part of that particular case." The case ended in a second degree murder conviction Just last year, in Zeeland, face book came into play again when Joshua Hambley was accused of stabbing Jonathan Dargis multiple times and hiding his body.

Part of evidence was Facebook conversations between Hambley, Dargis, and an ex-girlfriend.

"That trail of communication between the parties involved in t hat case was crucial in establishing a motive and also the timeline of events," says Lt. Bennett.

"We were able to get a lot of info about that relationship and ultimately the motive-- retribution for a bizarre sexual love triangle gone wrong." The conversations were used as evidence in the trial, which ended with a conviction of first degree murder.

In some investigations, police have to obtain a search warrant to access the information. Other times, it's openly posted for anyone to see.

"We will also see quite frequently where people will converse about something they've done openly and publicly which is amazing but does happen," says Lt. Bennett.

In December, a Washington woman alerted police to a murder-suicide in Indiana after she saw an acquaintance's Facebook status "Someone call 911, three dead bodies" was posted along with the address of the residence. Shortly after the call, police made the gruesome discovery.

The sites aren't just for solving crimes, it's also being used to prevent them. Police across the country are using it as a tool to generate tips and post surveillance photos.

In west Michigan, Grand Rapids Police Department and Allegan County Sheriff's Department are just a couple of agencies that have their own Facebook pages, proving how powerful instant information can be in crime solving.

What's next in this exploding trend? According to Lt. Bennett, "it's really difficult to say because 20 years ago, I would have never imagined we would be sitting here having this kind of conversation. That's kind of open to where technology takes us." Police say the internet providers are very helpful when it comes to assisting in investigations.

___ (c)2012 WXMI-TV (Grand Rapids, Mich.) Visit WXMI-TV (Grand Rapids, Mich.) at www.fox17online.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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