Cumberland Times-News

Columns

May 4, 2014

Threat alert

Police find they can get help through Web postings

Police across the country have long relied upon the citizens for help in solving or preventing crimes, but now are finding that this help is coming from a source they might not have expected even a few years ago.

Frostburg State University police recently were alerted to a shooting threat on an anonymous, location-based message application known as Yik-Yak, according to a posting on the university Facebook page.

No such incident has happened, but police notified other cooperating agencies and were able to find the source of the posting and make an arrest. Whether a shooting would have taken place if FSU police weren’t made aware of the posting, no one knows. It’s possible that a tragedy was averted.

The Associated Press reported last week that police in California were seeking online help in their investigation of a spring party that turned into a violent riot in which about 50 people were hospitalized, including police officers, and considerable property damage resulted.

Millions of people now carry smartphones that have camera apps they use to record events in their daily lives, and sometimes these events become the type that are of interest to police.

A perfect example of how this works followed the Boston Marathon bombings last year. Police almost immediately were inundated with videos and photos that were sent in by people who were at the scene of the bombings.

It was because of these submissions that police were quickly able to identify suspects and begin pursuing them. They also found out how the bombings were executed, and this information was put to use so this year’s marathon would have a better chance of going off without incident.

Privacy advocates don’t care for this development, but when criminal actions take place in public, where no reasonable application of privacy applies, we see no problem with them being recorded by private citizens and given to police.

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