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A 16-hour standoff and seven Facebook updates taught Ogden police the benefits and pitfalls of social media's growing popularity.
Even though police shut off power to the motel building where kidnapping suspect and known Norteños gang member Jason Valdez was holed up, he found a line of communication to the outside world: social media.
In June, the Ogden man used his smartphone to update his Facebook status with news to family and friends during the standoff. He received caution from many, words of encouragement from some, and even got help from one friend who told Valdez via Facebook that SWAT teams were staged around bushes and warned him to stay low.
"Everyones comments mean a lot. But how this ends is on the cops now. And my HOSTAGE as they call her is perfectly fine and holding it down wit me," one update said.
Ogden police Lt. Danielle Croyle said suspects using cell phones or text messaging as a crime unfolds isn't new for them but the use of social media is uncharted territory and is something police will monitor in the future.
"Facebook and social media is relatively new," Croyle said. "With the misuse of technology it can compromise what we are trying to accomplish."
After police entered the hotel room, Valdez allegedly shot at two officers and then shot himself in the head. He is out of the intensive care unit but is still "receiving significant care" at McKay Dee Hospital, according to Lt. Eric Young. He could face charges of attempted criminal homicide and aggravated kidnapping, Croyle said.
The man who told Valdez where police were staged also could face charges, although that is unlikely given the ambiguity of the Facebook post.
"The case is under review, and there is no immediate indication criminal charges will be filed," Croyle said. "But the potential is there for future situations, if information is disseminated that compromises the mission."
Social media participation such as photos and video from outside parties as a crime unfolds is a growing concern for police because it takes away their "tactical edge," said Salt Lake Metro Gang Unit Sgt. Duane Jensen.
Croyle said when police realized Valdez was using his public Facebook wall as a means for communication, "part of that was used to our advantage."
"We will utilize it as an investigation tool on our behalf next time," Croyle said.
Salt Lake City police spokeswoman Lara Jones agreed the use of social media in law enforcement isn't necessarily all bad.
"It cuts both ways it helps us and it hurts us," Jones said.
Shutting off a suspect's cell phone requires extreme circumstances and a judge's signature, so Croyle said monitoring social media instead of trying to stop it is a more likely scenario.
Getting social media sites to shut down an account in a timely manner during a criminal act is also a hurdle, though not impossible.
A Facebook spokesman said: "Facebook works with law enforcement to the extent required by law and where appropriate to ensure the safety of Facebook users. Our goal is to respect the balance between law enforcement's need for information and the privacy rights of our users, and as a responsible company we adhere to the letter of the law."
Twitter's website says requests to shut down or obtain information from a private account requires legal action.
So instead, those in law enforcement try to make the tools work for them.
Salt Lake City police recently used Twitter to send out a flier seeking information on a fatal hit-and-run accident involving a 24-year-old bicyclist riding on 700 East. They asked the public to share the flier or print out and post copies around the community, which helps get the word out at an exponential rate.
"We are harnessing the good will of the community [by] using social media," Jones said.
They also use Twitter to inform the public of fireworks restrictions and communicate with news media after a major crime.
Gang police in Salt Lake City have used social media for a number of years to track people that known gang members associate with and where they frequent, Jensen said.
"As it became more popular, we started discovering it could be a tool we could use in our investigations. And we have," Jensen said.
"Some [gang members] have been burned by it and others are a little more savvy," Jensen said, adding that some gang members flaunt their activity online. "It is kind of an 'in your face, and I don't care who sees it [mentality].' "
Salt Lake City police Detective Mike Hamideh said he has been using social media since 2005 after learning the nature of crimes were evolving.
"I remember informants telling me, 'You have got to get familiar with this. [Crimes] aren't happening before like they did on the street corners.' "