Monday, November 9, 2015
Policing and the Dannemora Prison Break: Filtering Though the Chaos
What struck me as the most interesting while looking through the social media accounts of the New York State police before and after the Dannemora Prison Break incident earlier this year was the degree of increase in comments and shares of the stories posted relating to these events compared to other incidents covered by the social media pages, including the near-weekly updates of images of the state’s most wanted fugitives. The Dannemora incident attracted a high level of interest from both social media and the traditional media, which lead to greater attention being given to the New York State Police social media pages. While there is no question that social media can increase both public awareness and public response to incidents that require a police response, I wonder how valuable the tools were in the case of the Dannemora events and how many resources should be devoted to monitoring social media by the police for this specific investigation. The social media sites appeared fairly chaotic during these weeks. Most comments I read would not have been particularly useful for the police and were, instead, politicizing the event. While the police may find some useful leads on social media, it seemed that the majority of comments on their own page were relating to issues like gun control and the SAFE Act, which ultimately had little, if anything, to do with the Dannemora issue. It seems that, during this time, investigators would have had to filter through thousands of relatively useless and sometimes inflammatory comments and may never have found a needle in that haystack.
However, if the issue is keeping the public aware about issues relating to the investigation, I think the New York State Police did a decent job. While they were criticized for not being more upfront about the investigation, I think it is important to remember the public safety strategy behind their tactics. They were aware that if the public had access to any information through social media or any other medium, the inmates would likely be able to access that information and see what the police were reporting.
As a Central New Yorker, like most New Yorkers, the Dannemora Prison Break issue dominated the news in my local community. As it unfolded, the traditional media covered leads and supposed sightings throughout the state. I remember hearing false reports about the inmates supposedly making it to the Southern Tier region of the state, hundreds of miles from the region where the prisoners were ultimately found. Police responded to these false reports by devoting resources to search in that region, ultimately drawing some focus away from the community around Dannemora, a fairly remote region outside of Adirondack Park. I have to wonder if police relied on any leads from social media for deciding how to devote resources and whether depending on social media as a primary policing/transparency medium is appropriate.
One final concern I had with the Dannemora issue was how valuable social media reports from police departments would be for citizens living in the North Country, especially the outlying regions of Adirondack Park, where the fugitives were ultimately found. I’ve been backpacking in the Adirondacks and know that internet and cellular signals don’t work in most of the park and many people living in the most remote areas of the North Country live in regions without high speed internet or reliable cellular services and where there is reliable service many people do not use it or simply can’t afford. Because of this, the Police Department has to remember the value of other mediums like radio and television for decimating information and even door-to-door policing, which was conducted in some communities in the North Country. Ultimately, the fugitives were found in one of the most remote areas of the state where good cellular signals are still few and far between.