What impact does social media have on law enforcement?

By Ryne Turke on June 12, 2016 at 7:25am

Morgan County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Brent Penner says apps like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are responsible for an upward trend in bullying and harassment in the area.

Penner believes deputies deal with social media issues on a daily basis because more people have cell phones and they can be used as a quick source to vent frustrations.

“Often times adults get into virtual arguments and they end up saying things they shouldn’t say and make threats. They aren’t necessarily immediate threats, but they are threats and people do come in to complain about them. We generally handle it by documenting it and maybe making contact with people,” says Penner.

“Even property crimes, we get a suspect often times conversing with someone else about burglaries they are doing, damages they have done or bragging. That involves pictures, texts and posts.”

Penner says social media users need to remember everything posted is “timeless” and can potentially be out there forever. Penner explains why law enforcement exercises some leeway when it comes to statements made on social media.

“Obviously you don’t know where the other person is at and it isn’t like I am standing right in front of you and you are in some sort of imminent threat of bodily harm. We look at it that way and try to filter some of that stuff out. We don’t act on it as much as if someone was face to face and making a direct threat,” Penner notes.

The Illinois Training Standards Board provides training to deal with the latest state mandates from the General Assembly, which occasionally include social media informational sessions.

“They have outside teachers come in and put on different classes all over the state. A lot of those are digital, virtual and social media based things. Whether it be to educate the officers on new laws dealing with computers and cell phones or avenues to pursue to collect evidence when we catch cases like these.” Penner says.

Penner notes deputies frequently investigate social media tips provided by the public.

“If we stumble across it and we see somebody we know is prevented from owning a firearm for example…or a lot of money with a joint in their mouth, taking a picture, and posting it on Facebook. It does catch your attention, especially if you recognize who they are or if they are posting it on their actual account with their name on there,” says Penner.

Penner says the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department works closely with the Jacksonville Police Department, Illinois State Police and the Attorney General’s Office to handle cases involving technology crimes.

Depending on the severity of the investigation, federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms could be brought in.