LAPD monitors social media for flash mob crime sprees


It's an example of how technology can help law enforcement, but sometimes it can present challenges, too. Investigators say a group of young people used Twitter and other social media sites to organize their rampage down Hollywood Boulevard.

Typically, a flash mob conjures up images of people who connect through social media for a singular purpose, normally to dance in a public place. But for law enforcement, flash mobs aren't always fun. At times, they can descend into lawlessness, such as an incident two years ago in Venice Beach where one person was shot or a scene out of Philadelphia in 2010 when a Twitter message encouraged thousands of teens to rush the streets of downtown, resulting in fights and dozens of arrests.

"The problem is when these flash mobs are used to commit mayhem and chaos," said Cmdr. Andrew Smith with the LAPD.

Police say that's what happened in Hollywood Tuesday night when a group of about 30 to 40 people marauded through Hollywood Boulevard, stealing purses and smartphones and vandalizing businesses.

"It really overwhelms the police resources for a short period of time and it's awful tough to catch them too and predict where they're going to be unless somebody tips us off," said Smith.

Smith said the department does what it can to monitor social media sites.

"Each of our geographic area has someone that is designated as the person to monitor the social media in the area," said Smith.

But while technology can present challenges, it can also help solve crimes. The LAPD is turning to its surveillance cameras stationed on several street corners in Hollywood to help them identify others who took part in Tuesday's crime spree.

"Surveillance cameras are a terrific asset for us when it comes to solving these crimes," said Smith.

Still, this type of police surveillance has its share of critics.

Peter Bibring, a lead attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, says the LAPD needs to lay out specific policies regarding cameras that respect the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

"Surveillance cameras, like any new technology, needs to be used appropriately and there needs to be policies in place that strike a proper balance between public safety and privacy," said Bibring. "The city of Los Angeles still lacks policies that would prevent the long-term retention of video surveillance."

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