Tulsa Police Sergeant Says Social Media Can Be Help Or Hindrance To Officers
TULSA, Oklahoma - Friday morning, during the manhunt for the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, Boston police asked citizens to stop posting everything they heard on police scanners on Facebook and Twitter.
That is a controversial request, because social media can be very helpful to investigators, seen in the spreading of pictures of the suspects, but officers say social media can also be a hindrance, at times.
Ironically, it was through social media, like the CBS Facebook page, the request went out from Boston police for social media users to stop posting information they were hearing on police scanners.
Tulsa homicide's Sgt. Dave Walker said officers often need to conceal their movements, especially when they are tracking someone dangerous, who doesn't want to be found.
"You don't want to be sneaking up on the house where the guy knows you're sneaking up on the house. That's the big reason they're probably asking for that," Walker said.
Sgt. Walker said social media was both helpful and a hindrance during the recent high-profile quadruple murders of four women at Tulsa's Fairmont Terrace Apartments. When they released a picture of someone they wanted to question, it spread like wildfire, and the man was located a few hours later in Kansas.
He said the downside is people jump on any little thing, and it grows into something huge, when in reality, detectives have already cleared it and moved on. Plus, too many people take the rumors, speculation and lies to be the truth.
"People latch onto something and it becomes bigger than it really is and, when we're not reacting the way everybody thinks we should be reacting, we look like misfits. But in reality, there's a lot of work getting through the crap, if you will, before we get to where we need to be," Walker said.
Ultimately, it's a balance, telling the public what they need to know to be safe, while allowing officers to do their jobs as safely and effectively as possible.
Police say social media can make finding that balance tougher, especially when the stakes are so high.
"If all of a sudden, they know what we know and it's being reported as we're doing it, it really evens the playing field," Walker said. "Us in law enforcement - I'll give you a little trade secret - we want to win. We don't want to make it an even playing field for the bad guy."
Police do have scrambled channels they use for secure communication, but when there's a huge event, like the Boston manhunt, there aren't enough of those channels to handle all the traffic. Plus, when agencies have to talk to other agencies in the region or at the state and federal level, those channels aren't scrambled, so those communications go out over the airwaves.