Social Media Investigations: Making the Case for Formal Training for Law Enforcement
In this age of over-booking and budget cuts, many of us find it hard to carve out time for skills enhancement. We convince ourselves that we know what we’re doing and we seem to be getting by, so what’s the problem?
But delaying or even avoiding critical skills enhancement can be detrimental—especially for law enforcement.
One thing that teachers love most is seeing that “light bulb moment” in their students. It’s very rewarding to know that you’ve introduced people to a new concept or skill that will help them on a daily basis. I had the opportunity to do that recently in Los Angeles.
For the past 8 years, I’ve crisscrossed the country to provide high-tech training and assistance to law enforcement personnel who need to enhance their skills in computer crime and social networking investigations, mobile device data recovery and related areas.
This past August, the LAPD invited me to spend two days working with over 160 police personnel from area law enforcement agencies. The topic—social networking investigations—is something that all agencies are struggling to incorporate into their crime fighting toolkits.
The audience was split into two basic camps. There were some who had already used social networking sites on a personal basis and therefore assumed they knew all there is to know about navigating these sites. And then there were others who had very little experience with social media, and were a little uneasy about using it on either a personal or professional basis.
It was my job to change their minds.
I did this by showing them that there is a big difference between using social networking sites for personal use and using them for investigations. I pulled back the curtain and showed them specific ways in which they can find more and better information. And do it more quickly.
We talked about how to search for people on Facebook—not just suspects, but victims and witnesses too. I showed them how school resource officers can use Twitter to monitor activity at a local high school. I showed them how to find photos on Instagram. We talked about what it takes to authenticate social media information for court purposes. And we covered how to send legal process to various social networking websites.
But by the end of the training, both sides agreed that taking the time away from their busy schedules was worth the effort. The response from students here carried the same message that I hear each time I present this material: I wish everyone in my department had this training.
My plea is this: Chiefs, get your officers the training they need. Don’t rely on over-the-shoulder training between staff to do the trick. Whether they work in homicide, gangs, or ICAC, your officers are eager for this information, and your reward will be what I get to see each time I teach a class: Excited law enforcement personnel who are motivated to apply their new skills to solving crime and enhancing public safety.
About the Author
Ms. Lauren Wagner is a High-Tech Crime Training Specialist for SEARCH. She coordinates and provides training on high-tech crime investigations and forensics to local, state and federal justice and public safety agencies. She provides technical assistance to law enforcement agencies in active cases, prepares training curricula, teaches SEARCH investigative courses and speaks at conferences throughout the United States.
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