NYPD to Scour Facebook and Twitter for Evidence of Crimes

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It’s not just employers who may be monitoring your social networking presence. The New York Police Department has launched a social media unit to track potential criminal behavior on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, according to the New York Daily News.

Assistant Commissioner Kevin O’Connor has been named to head up the new juvenile justice unit, which will operate within the Community Affairs Bureau. O’Connor is known as an expert in gang behavior and is well-versed in 21st-century crime, having successfully commanded online sting operations to nab sexual predators who used the Internet to troll for victims.

(MORE: Tottenham Protesters Used Twitter, BlackBerry Messenger to Mobilize Riots)

O’Connor and his team will monitor sites for tips about potentially dangerous activity, as well as leads on crimes that have already been committed. The NYPD has astutely noted the recent use of social technology both in planning crime and subsequently boasting about it.

In March, officers arrested six teenagers in the hate-fueled murder of another teen at a birthday party in Queens, after one of the suspects bragged about it on Facebook. Then in June, violence broke out during a house party in Brooklyn that was promoted on Facebook, leaving one man dead and seven wounded.

Social media has become an increasingly powerful tool in planning and organizing group action, as evidenced by this week’s U.K. riots, as well as the recent Arab Spring protests. Rioters have used Twitter and BlackBerry messages to disseminate information in real time: By the same token, police can also use this data to track the location of the disturbances.

MORE: U.K. Government Considers Blocking Twitter, BlackBerry in Wake of Riots