Investigators can learn a lot through an individual’s actions on the Web.
BY DANZA JOHNSON
TUPELO – To witness one of the biggest brawls in Tupelo last year, go to YouTube.com.
For more than four minutes, dozens of teens are locked in a mampêlampée right in the heart of Tupelo’s Ballard Park.
Even though police weren’t there at the start of the fight, the Internet post gave them the evidence they needed to arrest the teens.
Scenes like this are scattered across Internet social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Bebo. While they’re a way for friends to keep track of friends, they also can be a link to trouble.
Police use these very public sources to investigate, solve and gain information into crimes and criminals. Such investigations used to take hundreds of hours of manpower, but now it’s only a mouse-click away.
Tupelo Police Detective Capt. Bart Aguirre said the Internet has become a big part of how his department investigates crimes.
“We’ve had suspects who committed certain types of crimes talk about it and post it on MySpace or YouTube,” said Aguirre. “We find that a lot of people are very open about their crimes over the Internet.”
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson also uses cyberspace to fight crime. Since 2007, Johnson has arrested nearly 20 people during online sex stings.
Danny Giroux heads Lee County’s Cyber Crime Unit. He said law enforcement’s use of social networking sites is more common.
“A lot of people really want to exploit themselves over the Internet to the point where they’ll brag about or blog about their criminal activities,” said Giroux. “A lot of people live for these social networking sites, so they are just another tool we can use to investigate crime.”
Since the early days of Facebook, police have used social networking sites to investigate crimes.
“We’ve seen things such as drugs, money and even people showing off weapons over the Internet,” said David McElreth, chairman of the Legal Studies Department at the University of Mississippi. “People don’t seem to recognize the expectation of privacy on the Internet doesn’t exist.
“So they post things that they wouldn’t disclose to people in person or in any other form of communication.”
McElreth said these sites are windows into people’s lives, none more revealing than the Facebook page of convicted killer Daniel Cummings.
Cummings, an Ole Miss student at the time, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 2006 death of Ole Miss campus police officer Robert Langley.
Cummings tried to evade Langley during a traffic stop and caused the officer’s death when Langley reached inside the moving vehicle.
McElreth said police immediately visited Cummings’s Facebook page in an attempt to gain insight into his personality.
When police looked at Cummings’ Facebook page, they found drug and alcohol use. Several pictures showed him drinking beer with friends and hanging out in bars. Comments about marijuana use also were there.
Even though good police work could have uncovered Cummings’ background without logging onto Facebook, McElreth said it was a good tool for law enforcers.
“Even though it was immediately taken down,” said McElreth, “that Facebook page provided police with a lot of insight about what could have possibly caused such an incident.”
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or firstname.lastname@example.org.