Police agencies add social media to crime-fighting arsenal
by Ed Runyan
WARREN -- The International Association of Police Chiefs posted information on its blog last June about extremists who use social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter to “connect, communicate, and engage.”
In 2013, social media are among the most dominant forces in our culture, so the blog tells police departments how to use them to their advantage or how to counteract the way they're used by extremists.
At a seminar the organization presented in November, panelists stressed the “importance of using community policing and engaging community members and leaders both online and off- line to address online radicalization to violence,” the blog said.
Warren police and school officials experienced their own online radicalization five weeks ago after two homicides exactly one week apart — one involving the Oct. 19 shooting of Warren man TaeMarr Walker, 24, by a Warren police officer.
The second one, the Oct. 26 shooting death of Richard Rollison IV, 24, was committed by Walker's brother, TaShawn Walker, 26, police said.
And that was followed by gun violence involving TaeMarr Walker's house and searches of students at Warren G. Harding High School, followed by cancellation of that weekend's high school football game.
“The social media and all that is still happening,” Lt. Jeff Cole, spokesman for the Warren police, said of the unprecedented football cancellation.
The Vindicator has learned through looking at the Facebook page of TaeMarr Walker that it has become a sounding board for those with grievances.
Many posts from Walker's Facebook friends and posts from people logging on as TaeMarr Walker have contained threatening messages. It also contains what Walker wrote and photos he posted before he died.
On Oct. 30, a Facebook friend wrote: “we will get the pigs who killed our people !! taemarr walker will not have died in vain.”
On Nov. 18, posted as if it were TaeMarr Walker, was another comment referencing the Warren Police Department: “hope & pray that (deleted) burn to the ground with all them ... in it!!!!”
An article on the Federal Bureau of Investigation web- site by Capt. Gwendolyn Waters of the San Bernadino, Calif., Police Department, says the ability of Internet users to acquire birth, death and real-estate information has raised the threat level to law enforcement.
People who might have never considered making threats or outrageous remarks in person are now doing it on social media because they think they won't get caught.
“People who have a desire for attention, notoriety or fame are attracted to it,” she said of social media. “To get noticed, they often post entertaining or provocative information.”
Waters said it may be more cost-efficient to develop solutions after social-media threats get rolling rather than opening lines of communication in advance.
However, “departments must take responsibility for protection from this threat before they become blindsided by a sudden viral attack on their officers,” she said.
Warren Police Chief Eric Merkel, when asked about Facebook threats, has said it's difficult to prosecute them because of the difficulty of identifying the perpetrator.
Traci Rose, assistant city law director, when asked about the threats, said only that they are “under investigation.”
The police department, which experienced layoffs in 2009 and remains about 20 percent below the staffing level of 2008, worked large amounts of overtime in the weeks after the two homicides. Troopers from the Ohio State Highway Patrol also flooded the town, helping to make a key arrest involving gunfire at TaeMarr Walker's house.
But when the second homicide occurred, raising the possibility of a retaliation killing, the department failed to make information available to the public for more than two days.
The safety-service director provided some details. And Richard Rollison III, father of the victim, gave information to the public 36 hours after his son died.
“Learn from this, and love each other, and put those guns down,” the elder Rollison said at a vigil the day after his son's death.
The Warren Police Department Facebook page has posted five times since August, one on Oct. 30 mentioning the two homicides. “There have been many rumors being spread via social media. Again, these are rumors and posts that can not be verified,” it said. It tells people to “be aware of your surroundings” and gives the department's phone number. The department doesn't use any other social media.
Examples abound in larger police departments that use social media extensively.
For five years, the Baltimore Police Department has issued prompt notifications on Twitter on confirmed shootings and homicides, garnering nearly 40,000 followers.
During the Boston Marathon bombing in April, Cheryl Fiandaca, bureau chief of public information for the Boston Police Department, tweeted 10 times during the first 90 minutes of the tragedy. One post said, “Boston police confirming explosion at marathon finish line with injuries.”
Police had blocked cell- phone service after the bombings, leaving Twitter the best way to get out information, even to news sources that had begun to post erroneous information, according to the Public Relations Society of America.
When multiple news sources, including the Associated Press and CNN, erroneously reported that a suspect was in custody, the police department tweeted to set the record straight.
“We corrected a lot of misinformation,” Fiandaca said. “I think we became a very reliable, solid way to get information.”
Merkel said his department faced significant challenges in the weeks after the two homicides and didn't have the resources to write posts on social-media sites.
“It's something to look at,” he said.
New NYC police commissioner Bill Bratton thinks good community relations will make stop-and-frisk work
by Rory Carroll
If Bill Bratton's record in Los Angeles is any guide, New York will see little dramatic reduction in the police tactic of stop-and-frisk but improved targeting and community relations will soothe resentment.
New York's newly named police commissioner presided over a surge of stop-and-frisk while running the LA police department but softened the political impact by reaching out to black and Latino community leaders.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who was elected on a promise of curbing the controversial tactic, appears to be calculating his appointee will finesse but not end it. Critics say the policy in its current form unfairly targets young minority men, an accusation which dogged the outgoing mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
Bratton, 66, who served as New York's police commissioner from 1994 to 1996 before moving to LA, repeated his support for stop-and-frisk in a briefing to reporters on Thursday, saying it should be used in correct doses, like chemotherapy.
“At a time when police and community should be so much closer together, that there should be a bond of legitimacy and trust between them, it's not the case in so many communities in this city. It's unfortunate. But it can be corrected.”
During his 2002-2009 stint in LA, he had helped bring “a police force that was literally at war with its African American community … to a position now … where there has been incredible improvement in those relationships,” he said. “That can happen and will happen here in New York City.”
Even before formally taking over a police department scarred by race riots, corruption and brutality, Bratton sought out black leaders like John Mack, then head of the Los Angeles Urban League, and civil rights attorney Connie Rice. Rice warned she would sue him, as she did his predecessors, but he invited her to help him reform a force still tainted by the beating of Rodney King.
“He co-opted us, and he co-opted us into the mission of … the cultural transformation of LAPD,” she told the Los Angeles Times .
A force dominated by white males, many war veterans, strengthened civilian oversight and recruited more minorities – today almost half the 10,000 officers are Hispanic. “We were seen as some type of invading army,” Gus Villanueva, a veteran detective, told the Guardian last year. “But the reason was [the level of] violence on the streets. We were running from one disaster to another.”
The LAPD's improved image coincided, however, with a 49% spike in stops of pedestrians and motorists from 2002 to 2008, according to a Harvard Kennedy School report. Blacks comprised 9% of the city's population but accounted for 23% of all those stopped. Over the same period the number of stops which led to arrests doubled from 15% to 30%, suggesting the police tended to have good reason.
In contrast, from 2002 to 2012 only about 6% of NYPD stops led to an arrest, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. Black people comprise about a quarter of the population but accounted for over half those stopped.
Despite Bratton's diplomatic outreach, the LAPD faced growing accusations of racial profiling during his term. Critics, citing traffic stop data, said police stopped too many black people and Latinos, treated them differently and failed to properly investigate complaints. The department never found an officer guilty of racial profiling.
De Blasio played down those LA criticisms when he unveiled Bratton as his pick. “The community came to understand that the stops that were necessary were being done for a good reason,” he said. “There was that communication, that sense of legitimacy, and an appreciation.”
In an interview with the New Yorker before his appointment, Bratton said stop-and-frisk was fundamental to policing. “It has to be done respectfully, and it has to be done consistently … but it has to be done.”