Social media and the mob

Thirty kids walk into a 7-Eleven. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but few would laugh at what surveillance cameras captured next. The video, released by Montgomery Co. (Md.) police, shows the mob entering the convenience store early on a Saturday...

Say someone posts flash mob footage online. What happens next? “The first thing law enforcement would do is determine who is the owner of that profile,” says Newman. “If it was a YouTube video they would find out the IP address information for whomever posted the video and then go from there. Odds are, the person who posted the video is either one of the people involved, or they know somebody who was. So it’s very important for law enforcement to leverage social media as a form of evidence.”

Jeremiah Johnson, also a trainer at NW3C, adds that if agencies don’t already have a social media presence, now is the time to get one or more accounts, before someone else fills in the gap. “Even if you use it as a placeholder, it’s better to have it up and running,” says Johnson.

Real-world friends

Immediately following Germantown’s flash mob, Manger consulted with Philadelphia, New Orleans, and other agencies informally to get their take on the experience.

He also reached out to the Police Executive Research Forum—or PERF—a non-profit police research organization that provides management services, technical assistance, executive-level education and support to law enforcement agencies. PERF has recently held discussions about the Occupy movement, which Manger feels bears some similarity to flash mobs in terms of tactics and gathering information, intelligence and building relationship with groups.

Manger and Reynolds both agree that a mutually beneficial, well-cultivated relationship with Germantown’s businesses, schools, parents and children was crucial to identifying the suspects, gaining community support and taking a proactive stance against mob activity. In a word: involvement.

“You can get a lot of positive momentum to say this is not acceptable; this is not something that we can have in our city,” says Reynolds. “We’ve found there were some good kids involved in that group that were just doing bad things. When we interacted with the schools, it really sent a clear message and had positive impact on preventing similar events from happening in the future.”

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