Police Search For Mugger For 3 Weeks, Internet Finds Him In An Hour

from the thank-you,-internetz dept

We've discussed before the ways law enforcement groups use social media. Frankly, the general theme tends to be that they aren't very good at internetting. Whether it's mocking invasive vaginal searches or catfishing music fans with well-tread tropes, it seems the wider internet plays the web game better than the LEOs. All the while, you occasionally will hear someone in law enforcement decrying how awful the internet is and even sometimes attempting to shut down certain sites. Yet, despite being so under-appreciated, the wider internet sure does love to show how good they are at catching suspected criminals.

That capability was on full display in the case of a mugging in New York City, where police had been searching for a suspect for three weeks before "deputizing" the internet, which identified him in an hour. Within an hour of Gawker posting the video of the crime on the site, a helpful commenter linked to a Facebook page that appeared to show the suspect wearing the same clothes in photos taken mere hours prior to the crime.

The link led to the Facebook page of 21-year-old Aidan Folan, who had photos of him taken hours before the robbery. According to Gawker, the photos revealed the same sweatshirt the mugger wore in the video — with large fraternity letters on front. Commenters on the New York's Daily Intelligencer site, which also posted the video, also linked back to Folan.
Folan has since been arrested and charged with robbery and assault.
Internet 1, stupid frat boy crimes 0. But the larger point is that, far from the crime-inducing cesspool claimed by some LEOs, the internet is a tool they should be using. Many LEOs recognize that, utilizing social media to put together suspect timelines, but the aggregate of the public internet is also a tool to catch violent criminals.
Social media acts as a timeline of people's lives — accounts of their activities. And now they are playing significant roles in helping to solve crimes — most notably exposing the Steubenville rape case back in January.
It's worth noting that there's a difference between having the public help law enforcement find suspects and LEOs keeping watch over social media. The lesson here is that the it's not all or nothing with law enforcement and the internet. You can get the help you need without invading the public's lives.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 2:58pm

    Law enforcement has always caught criminals through public tips. This is nothing new. It's not like law enforcement is capable of monitoring everyone. It's the general public that does most of the work and has always been.

     

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      Rikuo (profile), Apr 12th, 2013 @ 3:09pm

      Re:

      Re-read the article carefully. It says the police had been searching for the suspect for 3 weeks, before they asked the public for help. When said public are able to do your job in just one hour after you've failed for weeks, what does that say about how competent you are? Considering the article says that they used basic clues like what clothes he was wearing...I'm frightened at the sheer level of incompetence on display here.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 3:19pm

        Re: Re:

        They should have asked the public sooner. Like I said, most of the time that the police find suspects it's due to tips. This was true before the Internet, it used to be in the form of phone calls from local citizens or from citizens across the country. That's why things like Americas Most Wanted have been useful, putting a criminal on T.V. and letting the public find them by calling in with tips and cops looking for leads from the public is useful. Even before television you had bounties and bounty hunters with Wanted pictures drawn of criminals and those drawings would get circulated and people would send tips to law enforcement. Law enforcement interviews eye witnesses to a crime to get stories and use them to prosecute or get the eye witnesses to appear in court if possible or to get more information that could help track down a suspect. Nothing has changed it's just that this is now done over the Internet.

         

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          Rapnel (profile), Apr 12th, 2013 @ 5:56pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I think part of the point is that it's not truly done over the Internet just yet. It's still "The Internet" for some a vile and evil thing .. than be helpful sometimes. Gee, who would've thunk? For example where are the law enforcement groups source pages for pictures, stories, videos, descriptions etc. that enable the public to assist in much the way was done here? You know, Internet speed, something our leaders have yet to realize (and some certain conglomerates that thieve from the public and yet, somewhat successfully, manage to keep that story turned around). There are people on the Internet. Television channels and shopping malls and Google are simply side shows.

          And perhaps the other buried point is that law enforcement treat people differently than their data. They should perhaps not do that quite like they do.

          So it's not that nothing has changed so much but that the tools take shape quicker than their effective uptake. Uptake without adequate, if not abundant, knowledge has proved costly enough as it is. There are too few people speaking to people and usually those speaking to the leadership people are few and well financed. Business "people" voices should never be louder than the one standing next door and the one standing next door will prove much more effective when tracking down people that harm other people. We.

           

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 4:27pm

        Re: Re:

        That's a bit unfair. The police cannot view every Facebook page - but the public, as a whole, can.

         

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          Zos (profile), Apr 12th, 2013 @ 4:36pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          the public, and the NSA.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Apr 13th, 2013 @ 1:37am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Only the public can view every page. NSA can capture every page, and (computer) search every page, but they do not have the staff required to have a human view every page.

             

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 5:00pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Which is part of the point. Instead of police hating the Internet they can use it as a tool to help them.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Apr 13th, 2013 @ 12:29am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            No, that's the point. People generally don't like it when you take their jobs away from them, even when you're hopelessly incompetent at your job. Just look at the RIAA!

             

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        PRMan, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 4:49pm

        Re: Re:

        The internet can perform 10,000 or even 100,000 man-hours in that hour. 99.9% of it will be wasted, and one person will find the perp. It would obviously take a lone cop an average of 5,000 hours to do the same thing. With good training and experience, they might get that down to 1,000.

        Still, the internet is the way to go. That's why they put mug shots on TV as well. It doesn't mean the cops are lame. In fact, by using TV and the internet, they got the job done.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 6:15pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          or possibly the police officer actually ON THE STREET, STOPPING the mugging before it happens.. instead of spending even 1 hour on the internet. or would you rather all police just surf the web all day ??

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Apr 13th, 2013 @ 1:42am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The problem with that idea is that it reduces both the crimes committed, and the crimes solved. The latter looks bad in their management statistics.
            /Sarc

             

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        Rol (profile), Apr 13th, 2013 @ 1:21am

        Re: Re:

        It has nothing to do with police competence. The police can't possibly go through millions of random facebook pictures to find someone by sheer brute-force search, but a crowdsourced effort certainly can.

         

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      John Fenderson (profile), Apr 12th, 2013 @ 3:44pm

      Re:

      Missing the point. The point is that law enforcement is always complaining about how the internet is some kind of criminal cesspool and trying to censor it, spy on it, or otherwise do it harm. When, in fact, the internet can be one of the most powerful investigatory tools the cops have. They should be championing it rather than trying to cripple it.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 6:14pm

        Re: Re:

        John,
        I'm only picking on you, because I respect you.

        Honestly, I worry about the time when the US stoops to the lows of GB. Here's an article:
        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1205607/Shock-figures-reveal-Britain-CCTV-camera-1 4-people--China.html
        Given DailyMail isn't the most trust worthy, but it's a known fact that CCTV cameras are everywhere in GB and privacy in public isn't expected.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Apr 13th, 2013 @ 1:51am

          Re: Re: Re:

          It is also worth noting that many of those cameras are privately owned, and so when law enforcement wants the footage they have to go and get it. Therefore while the camras may track someone’s movements, this information is not available in one place.
          Even when all the footage is collected ion one place, and tied to number plate or face recognition, it takes a deliberate search to track any individual. As ever the biggest protection of privacy in relation to government is the shear amount of data that they collect. Unless a very large part of the population is employed ad spies, the data is collected and never used.

           

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          John Fenderson (profile), Apr 15th, 2013 @ 9:02am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Not sure how I could take that as picking on me. I agree with you! Although surveillance in the US is massive, the amount of it in parts of Great Britain is so egregious that I have avoided trips there as a result.

           

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 8:42pm

        Re: Re:

        I think the biggest source of the complaining is that the Internet gives people the opportunity to criticize laws, law enforcement, politicians, and corporate behavior in ways that the otherwise government established media cartels would never do. Before it was easy for corrupt behavior to go unnoticed. It was easy for the government to convince people of bad laws. It was easy for them to tell people that red light cameras are a good thing, video games are the cause of so much violence, IP infringement leads to bigger crimes and is costing corporations absurd amounts of money, etc... No evidence needed. It was easy to convince people that the FBI were these really awesome James Bond types defending us in ways we don't know. Congress could pass all sorts of invasive bills without anyone even being aware of it. Most of what goes on was unknown to the public because the big government established media cartels would keep us in the dark and feed us with nothing but propaganda. Now things are very different and the government and law enforcement don't like being criticized and challenged when they say or do something. It's not that the Internet facilitates crime that they don't like. It's that the Internet, in its current form, makes it harder for the government and others to simply brainwash us with propaganda without any sort of criticism or resistance.

        The real problem is that these people have gotten used to having a bought media deliver nothing but propaganda and ignore or censor messages that the government-industrial complex don't like. I remember many years ago, when red light cameras first came out, the media proclaimed that these things were definitely a good thing and reduced accident rates. This was a one sided message by the media. They didn't mention all the corruption that went on behind the scenes (that was mentioned on Techdirt) and the fact that the data wasn't all that clear (some data indicates that they reduce accident rates while others indicate that they increase). No, they gave a one sided, unilateral message. Only after the Internet started exposing these things and the problems with and criticisms against it did the media finally begin to catch up and do the same (only because of the Internets influence on the media). For example, the media wouldn't independently mention that many of these red light cameras were taken down after ticket revenues started to decline (ie: after people became more aware of these cameras and stopped crossing many red lights). Discontinuing them after a reduction in revenue would suggest that their intended purpose is to generate revenue and not to reduce accident rates. In fact, the only reason the media is more honest now is because of the Internets influence on it. No longer can the media easily get away with blatantly one sided propaganda without having a wide Internet community call them out on it. This is, fundamentally, what is hated about the Internet.

        What we need to do now is to do exactly what the government-industrial complex doesn't want for the exact reason they don't want it. We need to destroy all government established broadcasting and cableco monopolies for private or commercial use. These monopolies make it easier for the government-industrial complex to brainwash us with propaganda and overcharge us for commercials and to control the information that we get and to ensure that we only get information that advances their personal interests. These monopolies are not intended for the public interest and they must be abolished.

         

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      Zos (profile), Apr 12th, 2013 @ 4:36pm

      Re:

      law enforcement's to busy stealing seizure funds and terrorizing pot heads to deal with petty crimes like this.

       

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      Stop Snitchin', Apr 13th, 2013 @ 5:15pm

      Re:

      "It's not like law enforcement is capable of monitoring everyone". Yep. That's the government's role.

       

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 3:09pm

    So "teh internets" have caught up with 90's TV shows.

    Whee.

    "large fraternity letters on front." ... "Internet 1, stupid frat boy crimes 0." -- Yup, even Timmy takes a swipe at frat boys. This proves what I say about them there college boys. Higher education just teaches 'em how to work on larger scale and better legalisms to beat the rap.

     

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      Arthur Moore (profile), Apr 12th, 2013 @ 3:53pm

      Re: So "teh internets" have caught up with 90's TV shows.

      You know most presidents were part of a fraternity. Oh wait, that's just proving your point...

      I actually disagree with you, but I don't think I'll feed the troll this time.

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 4:26pm

      Re: So "teh internets" have caught up with 90's TV shows.

      your shoulder, there's something on it, a giant chip i think

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 3:50pm

    This proves one thing

    We need to ban facebook to prevent these criminals from posting pictures of themselves and then robbing people!

     

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    THX 1138, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 3:55pm

    With the right software they'll be able to catalog and cross reference the vast data across the net to provide a much more precise enforcement of laws, many of which were handled only loosely in previous centuries.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 4:11pm

    Another examples of this phenomena...

    https://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/anonymous-threatens-unmask-boys-accused-raping-canadian-girl- article-1.1313547?localLinksEnabled=false

    The police had closed the case due to lack of evidence.

    Hearing an alleged member of Anonymous talking about it today, it sounds like they were able to elicit confessions from at least one of the alleged perpetrators via online chat.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 4:39pm

    Wanted!
    Aidan Folan
    Dead or alive!

    It's hardly different from ye olde wanted posters. They just need to realize that.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 6:09pm

    The police would NOT have been looking for this guy AT ALL, they don't give a shit, police are only capable of the most low hanging fruit on the tree. If someone does something right in front of their eyes, they will (probably) do something..

    I live in a very high crime area, mostly drugs, and the police are here all the time, driving up and down the street, I guess expecting the drug dealers to run out onto the street and give themselves up..

    If only the police would actually get out of their cars, and take a walk they would find all sorts of things.. but that would mean actually having to work !!!

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Apr 12th, 2013 @ 8:23pm

    The internet sucks when a video of a cop abusing citizens is posted, when people plan to protest peacefully, etc.

    I find it amazing that NYPD with officers posted around the globe, running secret spying missions, and with the budget they have - needed the internet to handle a simple crime.

    Maybe if they stopped looking for imaginary terrorists, people smoking to close to the imaginary lines, while drinking a soda that is to big and instead focused on the real world problems they could do better.

     

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    madasahatter (profile), Apr 13th, 2013 @ 9:59am

    Dim flatfoots

    Part of the problem is many cops are not trained in how to effectively search the Internet or Facebook. Coupled with a failure to realize how much data the typical person will accidentally provide on Facebook or Twitter openly (no warrant needed) you have very poor usage of potential tools.

    True most crimes are solved by a combination of tips and criminal stupidity (like leaving you DNA on a bottle at the crime scene and then trying to claim you were never there).

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 14th, 2013 @ 8:43am

    Wanted - Copyright Infringer

    This suspect [picture] was seen playing pirated music in his car. He has even been known to pirate software. If you see him call 911 and don't approach him, he can be dangerous. There is no telling what he may do.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 14th, 2013 @ 8:47am

      Re: Wanted - Copyright Infringer

      Someone ought to do a most wanted commercial on someone for infringement.

      "He was last seen at the (something county) Library pirating books on copy machines (show surveillance pictures). The suspect is described as having a red car with license plate number (blah blah blah blah). He has brown hair and blue eyes and he goes by the name Franklin.

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Apr 14th, 2013 @ 9:03am

        Re: Re: Wanted - Copyright Infringer

        It should start with (guy in an authoritative/narrative AMW voice)

        "According to Hollywood math, copyright infringement costs the economy trillions of dollars a year. Well, this suspect is especially costly. Police call him the Library book copier".

         

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 14th, 2013 @ 2:40pm

      Re: Wanted - Copyright Infringer

      Also, don't talk to the suspect. He has been known to convince people that there is nothing wrong with copying which could spell disaster for Hollywood Corporations, I mean, ... , the economy if enough people begin to believe this.

       

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    Ninja (profile), Apr 15th, 2013 @ 3:37am

    He was kind of lucky 4chan did not grab the case. After many mankini, bullying and mockery he'd actually go to a police station and ask to be arrested.

     

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    tomxp411 (profile), Apr 15th, 2013 @ 1:25pm

    Is it wrong that I read the headline as "Police search for Muggle"?

    Apparently I need to get out more.

     

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