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.

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Comments on “Police Search For Mugger For 3 Weeks, Internet Finds Him In An Hour”

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Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Rapnel (profile) says:

Re: 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.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: 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.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

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:
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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

out_of_the_blue says:

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


“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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Another examples of this phenomena...


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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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 !!!

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

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.

madasahatter (profile) says:

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).

Anonymous Coward says:

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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