Social Media: A crime-fighting tool
BARSTOW • Myspace may be a place for friends, but for police detectives, it’s also a place for evidence — a mass of information and connectivity useful for criminal investigations.
Detectives with the Barstow Police Department say they frequently use social media, such as Facebook and YouTube, to research suspects, solicit tips and collect evidence, said Det. Keith Libby.
They are among the 88 percent of law enforcement agencies nationwide using the digital tools to fight crime, according to a recent survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Detectives use Facebook to document a criminal’s gang ties, Libby said. They watch YouTube to monitor repeat offenders. They even have a Facebook profile to connect with the community, informing of their activities and soliciting tips.
And they have gotten tips from social media, Libby said.
Sgt. Andy Espinoza Sr., who heads up the detective squad, said people are more willing to share sensitive information online. Police have seen suspects possessing illegal drugs, showing gang signs and even making threats in their web posts —all which can be used as evidence against them.
“You think there’s some anonymity on Facebook, but you’re going to get caught sooner or later,” Espinoza said.
Such was the case with Marcus Razario, a Barstow man who joked about planting bombs in the courthouse on his Facebook in May. Officials evacuated the courthouse and searched for bombs, though none were found. Razario was later arrested and charged with falsely reporting a bomb. At that point he was out on bail for the murder of his father. He is now in custody awaiting trials for both cases.
The detectives even use social media to get close to suspects, hoping to elicit admissions some would never make to police.
Libby was able to get close to murder suspect Joyce Fransson through a 21-year-old Myspace user called “Sierra.”
Sierra had dark wavy hair, wore a blue bikini and listed her mood as breezy. She contacted Fransson because her old friend, Jeami Chiapulis, asked her to. At the time, Chiapulis and Fransson were both implicated in the 2009 murder of Leisa Hurst.
Over the course of a month, Sierra was able to gain Fransson’s trust and get her to admit aspects of her involvement in the cover-up. Fransson was eventually convicted of accessory charges. Chiapulis was convicted of second degree murder.
“We’re just a small department,” Libby said. “It would be ideal to put just one person on the computer.”
Smaller law enforcement agencies tend to use social media more than their national peers, according to a survey of agencies released by LexisNexis Risk Solutions of Washington, D.C.
With fewer resources available to smaller departments, detectives use what they can to get a break in their investigations.
“Now with the social media craze you can do it from your home in the secrecy and privacy of your home, but it’s not private. It’s public,” Espinoza said. “It’s a resource that we can take advantage of.”
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