With the advent of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, police have a new tool at their disposal to fight crime. Oftentimes, unsavvy criminals expose their guilt with a tweet or a status update. However, police also use the internet to prevent crime via social outreach. At the New York City Police Department, officers use social media to identify and prevent potential offenders. In the Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program (J-RIP), officers develop targeted rehabilitation strategies for troubled youths.
To gain access to a youth’s social media account, an officer creates a fake profile. The faux account usually features an attractive girl requesting to be the target’s friend or follower. After analyzing the information posted on the profile, the J-RIP team compiles a detailed report.
Offline, the J-RIP team also has a strong real world presence. Detectives make frequent visits to the youths’ homes and forge relationships with their families. If a youth has a gang affiliation, the officer may pass by and shout a friendly greeting on the street. By forcing a public association with police, the youth is gradually isolated from gang acquaintances and is less likely to commit crimes like robbery.
While robbery often elicits the image of a masked gunman demanding a woman’s purse, it can also come in more subtle forms. A schoolyard bully can easily face adult charges of robbery following a playground altercation.