Mon, Jun 09, 2014 - Page 6 News List

UK police urged to track gangs’ ‘digital footprints’

The Observer, LONDON

Scotland Yard must embrace social media more effectively to dismantle and quash gang culture in London, senior New York police officers say.

Evidence on the territories, memberships and crimes committed by gangs has never been easier to find online, US police said, adding that tracking the electronic footprints of criminals had led them to crush entire gang structures.

New York City Police Department (NYPD) Assistant Commissioner Kevin O’Connor said gangs’ use of social media had evolved from Myspace through Twitter and Facebook to the currently in vogue Instagram.

“It’s getting easier and easier, not harder and harder [to obtain evidence]. All they’ve done is change venues from Facebook to Instagram,” he said

Using social media to infiltrate UK gang culture was a key topic last week at an international summit in London.

US criminologists said officers from Scotland Yard had displayed “tremendous interest” in social media’s potential to tackle crime.

David Kennedy of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice said the psychology of gangs and their need to brag and impress rivals meant they had gravitated to social media as a means of instantly reaching a wide audience.

One by-product of this, he said, was that street graffiti had become almost obsolete as a way of marking territory or communicating with rival factions.

“These gangs used to communicate with each other, threaten each other and send signals through graffiti, but are not doing that anymore; it’s all online,” Kennedy said. “Gangs talk about what they do on social media to an extraordinary degree.”

“The cycle of aggression and insult has picked up pace enormously. You can have very complicated and potentially dangerous exchanges where they don’t even have to leave their bedrooms. All their friends and enemies are watching,” Kennedy added.

So, increasingly, are the police, said O’Connor, who added it was simple to track down gang members who post pictures of themselves with drugs and guns.

The potential of social media to dismantle criminal structures was made clear on Wednesday, when the NYPD and the Manhattan district attorney announced the largest indicted gang case in the history of the metropolis.

A total of 103 members of three violent gangs were charged and O’Connor said evidence obtained from social media had been a crucial factor in assembling the case against the gangs — 3Staccs and their rivals, Make It Happen Boys and Money Avenue.

The trio had been embroiled in a bitter turf war in west Harlem, with 19 non-fatal shootings, about 50 shooting incidents and two murders in the indictments. One victim was Tayshana “Chicken” Murphy, an 18-year-old high school basketball star who was fatally shot in 2011. Prosecutors and detectives examined more than 1 million social media pages while assembling their case.

Criminologists and police say London and New York have similar patterns of gang structures and behavior, but London groups tend to be more fluid in their range of movements.

In London, there are 224 known gangs incorporating 3,495 identified members, 70 percent of them aged 17 to 23.

Figures released last week revealed that nearly 1,000 young people were shot or stabbed in the capital last year. Statistics from London’s ambulance service show that last year, paramedics were called to 973 victims under 25 suffering gun or knife wounds.

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