Police investigating two gangs called the Very Crispy Gangsters and the Rockstarz didn't need to spend all their time pounding the pavement for leads. Instead, they fired up their computers and followed the trash talk on Facebook.
"Rockstarz up 3-0," one suspect boasted : a reference to the body count from a bloody turf war between the Brooklyn gangs that ultimately resulted in 49 arrests last month.
Authorities in New York say a new generation of gang members is increasingly using social media to boast of their exploits and issue taunts and challenges that result in violence. And police and prosecutors have responded over the past several years by closely monitoring Facebook and other sites for leads and evidence.
On Tuesday, New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced plans to beef up the NYPD's cybercrackdown by expanding the use of aggressive online investigative tactics and doubling the size of the department's gang unit to 300 investigators.
The reinforcements will focus less on established gangs like the Bloods and Crips and more on loosely knit groups of teenagers who stake out a certain block or section of a housing project as their turf and exact vengeance on those who trespass or fail to show the proper respect.
"By capitalizing on the irresistible urge of these suspects to brag about their murderous exploits on Facebook, detectives used social media to draw a virtual map of their criminal activity over the last three years," the commissioner said in remarks prepared for delivery at a law enforcement convention in San Diego.
Examples of the public displays of digital bravado abound. In the Brooklyn case, suspects sought to intimidate informants by posting court documents containing their names, authorities said. In another throwdown, the Rockstarz posted a photo of a Very Crispy member and the comment, "He is scared. Look at him."
Police say much of the potentially incriminating material they gather can be found on Facebook profiles that are public.
But as part its new, stepped-up efforts, the department will refine and expand use of a tactical instrument in the three-year Brooklyn gang investigation having officers adopt Internet aliases, create phony profiles, and seek to "friend" suspects to gain access to nonpublic information, officials said.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the NYPD "has the right, indeed the obligation, to pursue effective avenues for investigating criminal gang activity, and that includes using Facebook and other social media." But she said such methods must be closely monitored so they don't become "a vehicle for entrapment or unauthorized surveillance."