Social media: Is it the new crime fighter?

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In the era of social media, catching crimes on camera can be a strategic tool to help catch perpetrators. 

People use multiple platforms to spread their videos; Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Nextdoor, the popular apps used in the Hub City. 

Chief Greg Stevens, with Lubbock Police Department, said they began to see social media emerge about three years ago. Since then, he said it has become a helpful investigative tool to find answers and fight crime.

In 2018, Lubbock Police had approximately 3,100 vehicle burglaries and 1,560 residential burglaries. Both totals down slightly compared to previous years. 

(Note: Police said they are not certain if this number is due to fewer crimes or a switch to a new reporting method.)

“You guys upload it on your social media and we are able to catch crooks and catch thieves,” Stevens said. “They can be very useful for us in crime fighting, for citizens to be aware of things in their neighborhood, or to find a lost pet.”

Sunshine Stanek, the Lubbock County district attorney, said it is slowly making its way in as evidence in court cases.

“We have tried people using Facebook, Snapchat, MySpace, way back when,” Stanek said. “There is a certain amount of case law but there is also uncharted waters.”  

As members of the community, Kalea and Omar Hernandez were tired of the crime in their neighborhood, including at their own home, so they made the Facebook page ‘Operation Crime Watch’ to help the community stay informed. 

In a year, it grew to more than 5,700 followers. They said with all the videos and posts sent to them, they recognized the responsibility on their shoulders. 

Omar Hernandez, a co-creator of the page, said they filter through all of the posts. 

“We don’t allow irrelevant information to come through the page, just flood it, or victimize someone,” said Kalea Hernandez, the other co-creator. 

While police live by the statement, ‘see something, say something,” Stevens said if people are not careful, social media can have unintended consequences. 

“Not everything is in and of itself is suspicious,” he said. “Is it someone that is just engaged in door to door sales, and just makes us uneasy, or is it truly someone that is looking for a house to break into or something like that?”  

In addition to property crimes, in the past few months, Lubbock Police responded to multiple shootings, including a couple of cases of self-defense turned deadly. Comments filled social media, making many in the community question if crime was on the rise. 

Stevens said it’s both.

“Don’t get me wrong. Crime is on the rise in many aspects,” Stevens said. “The larger issue is, our knowledge of crime has gone up so much. It has given us the perception that crime is so much more rampant.”  

“This maybe smaller issue has become a bigger issue because it has gained some attention. Trending on social media at the time,” Stanek said. 

In reality, Stevens said the number of deadly self-defense incidents have not gone up in the past seven years. However, other crimes, like property crimes have, he said. 

“There is danger lurking around many corners, but not all of them,” he said.

Stevens encouraged the community to take a look at each video or comment they intend to post on social media closely before hitting send. However, he said if a situation is unclear, report it. They will always be there to help.

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