Doug Hempstead, Ottawa Sun, August 1, 2011
In the wake of two so-called flashrobs in recent weeks, Ottawa cops are ramping up their efforts to fight crimes being planned through social media.
The news comes after separate groups of thieves stormed into two businesses over the past few weeks and made off with handfuls of stolen merchandise in a matter of seconds.
The Quickie store at Parkdale Ave. and Scott St. was robbed July 16 and the Independent Grocer in Alta Vista was hit July 23. Police don’t think the two crimes are related, but know these types of robberies are often planned through social media like Twitter and Facebook.
They’re hoping somebody recognizes the thugs in the video, available on ottawasun.com, but the best way to fight this kind of crime is to stop it before it happens.
“That’s extremely challenging,” said Inspector Don Sweet. “You have to be on the inner-circle to get tipped off. It’s pretty hard to become friends with people with criminal intent on Facebook when you’re a cop.”
Sweet said the flashrobs are nearly as quick to organize as they are to carry-out.
“It takes about a half-hour to organize and then the crime is instantaneous,” he said.
It’s something he’s working together with Ottawa Police’s criminal intelligence section on. That unit is the one which keeps an eye on anarchist websites and the like–which sometimes will write about intentions to disrupt major events in the city, like diplomatic or Royal visits, and G8/G20 meetings.
“It’s very challenging to pin-point smaller events,” Sweet said. “It’s all new, but we’re in the middle of a project–a strategic response to social media.”
Toronto Police is doing the same. The force aims to have nearly 200 cops with Facebook pages and Twitter profiles before Christmas. The new project is set to be announced this week after the first set of officers gets trained.
Sweet said Ottawa will likely begin with Facebook profiles for its community policing offices or the constables assigned to them.
“Will we have a Tweeting chief? Who knows. With Vern White, I’d say it’s definitely possible.”