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Frisco, Texas PD sees value in social media monitoring

Social media monitoring has been a growing topic of conversation at police departments and other law enforcement agencies across the country. As the general public shares more information on social networks, it's not surprising that police, sheriffs, corrections officers and others want to search through that data and use it to their advantage.

While much of the public-facing discussion of police technology has been focused on body cameras, social media monitoring has become a popular topic of consideration in many areas as well. In Frisco, Texas, the local police department was so enthused with a trial run of monitoring software that it is prioritizing the purchase of such a platform and raised support among the municipal government for the purchase as well.

A successful request
The Dallas Morning News reported the Frisco Police Department sought a $35,000 grant to cover the purchase and installation of a social media monitoring system. The grant, approved in late April, came from the city's coffers, and not a state or federal program, so the timeline for receipt should be much shorter than in some other situations. Community Impact Newspapers reported that although initial approval was provided by the Frisco City Council, the department will need to go through two more council meetings before the software can actually be installed: once to confirm receipt of the grant and again before the actual purchase.

"Social media monitoring software helps police quickly identify potential crimes and dangerous situations."

An impressive trial run
Frisco Police Chief John Bruce told The Dallas Morning News that the interest in social media monitoring has been growing since a demo of such software was provided and used by the department during a 2014 Jimmy Buffett concert in the area. The event, which drew thousands of attendees, was a unique chance for the department to see how social monitoring works in real time, providing valuable intelligence to officers about potential crimes in the area of the concert and helping officers in situational crime prevention efforts. Bruce highlighted discussions of fights during the concert on social media as one area where the software was able to get officers on the scene much faster than if they waited for a call from a member of the general public.

Another example Bruce provided came from a nearby town already using the software, where the monitoring platform notified officers of a large party in an abandoned house in Frisco. That agency notified the FPD and officers were able to break up the party before more serious damage was caused to the structure.

Pushback and response
A common topic of discussion when law enforcement agencies consider the addition of social media monitoring software is the potential for police to access private information that's specifically been protected with privacy settings. This topic arose during the Frisco City Council's discussion of the grant application. Some residents were hesitant about the department using the software because they felt it would pry into areas where police don't - and currently can't - have access. Bruce assuaged some of those fears by pointing out the system only searches through information made publicly available - the same type of posts that can be found using search engines.

Another topic of discussion noted by The Dallas Morning News that isn't heard as frequently was the prioritization of response when using social media monitoring software. Specifically, one citizen at the council meeting said they were afraid of police prioritizing relatively minor or so-called victimless crimes simply because they had access to real-time information about those issues and could respond more quickly. This is an area that deserves some thought from agencies using or preparing to use monitoring software, although setting a departmental policy doesn't have to be a particularly long or difficult exercise.

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