Facebooking a Felony: How social media is helping police catch crooks

Posted at 10:00 PM, May 11, 2017

LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Crime may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of social media, but investigators say it's happening. It's upping their workload, but social media is also a major tool when it comes to solving cases.

You may use your social media to share and connect with friends, but now more than ever, crooks are using it to commit crimes.

A Cleveland man recently captivated and horrified millions by shooting a stranger to death and posting the video on Facebook.

A woman out of Lakeland was seen bouncing around Chuck E. Cheese on Facebook Live, until investigators discovered she had outstanding warrants, leading deputies straight to her.

And closer to home, a sale through Facebook in Cape Coral ended in a theft, and eventually an arrest.

What do all of these cases have in common?  Social media.

It's changed the way crooks commit crimes.  But it's also changed how investigators solve them.

"It's really upped the workload."  Captain Anthony Sizemore with the Cape Coral Police Department tells Fox 4 that before social media, a crime scene typically involved a house, a car, or a physical place where a crime happened. Now the borders of an investigation are almost limitless.

"People put their entire life on Facebook, or Twitter, Instagram, Kik," says Capt. Sizemore.

But now, sometimes the old-fashioned analytical police work is almost done for them.  "A lot of people are quite open about what they've done…their exploits, who they associate with."

When Jared Hamilton turned to Facebook to sell an iPhone, he quickly found a potential buyer.  "I didn't take the time to look into the profile or anything like that, but I agreed to meet him in Cape Coral.

And when he did, his phone was stolen.

Detectives used his conversation with the thief on the “Barter Kingz” Facebook page.  "We were able to go back to digital format to find out who's who," says Capt. Sizemore.

Plus, the video his wife took of the incident helped make an arrest for grand theft and battery.

But is it always so easy to nab crooks using social media?  Capt. Sizemore says that just like any other piece of evidence, it has to be verified and proven.  "Never is it a silver bullet."

And if the evidence is strong enough to make an arrest, will it hold up in a courtroom?

Attorney Scot Goldberg says nothing is off limits.  "They're allowed to get our client's Facebook information, go onto that Facebook page, and get the information from there. The photos, things that they've said, and it can be very damning if people aren't careful.”

Goldberg says he even uses social media to investigate his own clients.  “We have to know what our clients are doing, what they're saying, what the witnesses are doing, what the defendant's doing and saying.  And all of that comes from social media."

And in the always-evolving world of social media, to keep crime under control, investigators are constantly working to stay on top of it.  "There's always a new way for people to broadcast what they're doing, try to hide what they're doing, be right out in the open with what they're doing.  And for us to find it.  So if you're not constantly learning, checking, digging, and sourcing social media platforms, you're behind as a law enforcement agency."