Is Pinterest The Future Of Law Enforcement?

PinterestRedwood City Police Department's "recovered property" board on Pinterest.

Police officers have a new ally in the realm of law enforcement: social media. Specifically, Pinterest. That's right--the site known for wedding wishlists and recipes for blueberry cake pops has proven itself to be a valuable crime-fighting instrument.

As NPR reports, the police department in Redwood City, California has had repeated instances of success using the platform to reunite the owners of stolen goods with their lost property. Last February, Detective Dave Stahler turned to Pinterest to track down the owner of a unique keepsake discovered in a bag of stolen jewelry, and received tips from three users within hours of posting a pin.

That's not the only thing the site's good for, from a law enforcement perspective. Police in Richmond, Virginia have used Pinterest as a resource in unsolved murder cases, while arrest rates for theft, fraud and sexual assault have jumped 57 percent in one Pennsylvania town after a local newspaper created a Pinterest board for criminals' mug shots.

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"It's a way for us to reach people who wouldn't have gotten our messages before, people who maybe don't interact with traditional media," Kansas City police spokesperson Sarah Boyd told

Nevertheless, it might be some time before we start seeing police departments hire Twitter detectives (attn. True Detective writing staff, that idea's on the house). For one thing, MySpace is still more widely utilized by police departments than Pinterest or Instagram, although that might have as much to do with the creepiness of MySpace's user base as it does with law enforcers thinking it's still 2002.

And then there are the times when attempts at social media outreach backfire in spectacular fashion, as when the NYPD's #myNYPD campaign resulted in thousands of Twitter users posting images of police brutality.

"It's really all over the map still," Connected Cops' Lauri Stevens told NPR. "There are a great many of them that are just coming along."

But for every #myNPYD debacle, there are a handful of successes like Stahler's--or other ones on platforms like YouTube and Google Hangouts, where Toronto law enforcement officials have begun live-streaming their news conferences. While it's clear that social media-as-law enforcement tool is an idea that's still in its infancy--as well as one that has some potentially scary applications (does a Tweet count as evidence?)--there's something to be said for training officers in social media proficiency, if only because those "recovered property" Pinterest boards are so darn cute.

"It's really important that these professionals learn how ... to use the ease of access to information to their own benefit also, or they're going to get run over," said Stevens.

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