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New Beat for Calgary Police: Is Online Crime Detection Good for Calgary?

September 3, 2015

According to a recent "news story" in the Calgary Sun, the Calgary Police have been making extensive use of social media to further their policing efforts. Specifically, the article uses a few broad brushstrokes to describe how Calgary Police and other emergency services to give the public necessary information about investigations in progress, traffic closures, and other issues.

I have no problem with the Calgary Police increasing their transparency by letting the Calgary public at large know what they're up to. I completely agree that there is a lot of important information the public needs to know, and that social media can be an effective way of getting the word out, so in terms of what this article describes I'm fully in support: let the Calgary Police use Twitter and any other service they can to keep the public updated.

My problem is with the things the Calgary Sun doesn't describe. For instance, it doesn't even mention the fact that the Calgary Police use their 100,000+ Twitter followers in an attempt to detect crime and to find alleged criminals by turning the public into an investigative force. Yet if you were to visit the Calgary Police's Twitter feed, you'd see that a fair number of their "tweets" are geared towards exactly this purpose. The Calgary Police are using social media just as much to collect information from the public as they are using it to push information to the public.

Social media doesn't just make the police more transparent, it makes society as a whole more transparent. Those who choose to post regularly to social media are, in a sense, giving up their right to privacy and their right to remain free from government intrusion, including police investigations; if you publish the information publicly, you are giving the police implicit information to access that information. So I can't exactly condemn the Calgary Police if they choose to use other Calgarians' social media posts in their investigations.

I can be, and am, bothered by the many attempts made by the Calgary Police to turn the average Calgarian into an investigator. Sowing greater suspicion in our community, and making Calgary's citizens suspicious of each other and "on the alert" from crime and criminals when our city is, in fact, one of the safest in the world—that, to me, seems like one step closer to a police state, and one step further away from the type of supportive, engaged, and connected community that made me fall in love with Calgary in the first place.

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This entry was posted on September 3, 2015


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