Tri-City Police Get Software to Monitor Social Media Sites

The software gathers real-time and old posts from around the area and organizes the data for officials to review and track using keyword searches.

by Tyler Richardson, Tri-City Herald / February 2, 2015

(TNS) -- Tri-City law enforcement agencies in Washington will soon have software that will allow them to track personal accounts on a number of social media websites.

Benton County Commissioners this week approved $20,000 to buy the SnapTrends software to help investigators keep track of posts on websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

The Kennewick, Richland and Pasco police departments, as well as the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, will use the software.

A nearly $70,000 federal grant obtained by Benton County Emergency Management helped pay for the social media intelligence software — the first of its kind in the Tri-Cities. Variations of the software are used nationwide.

The software gathers real-time and old posts from around the area and organizes the data for officials to review. They can track where a post came from and use keyword searches to follow conversations on several sites.

Investigators will be able to zero in on certain areas around Benton and Franklin counties and scour social media websites for information related to their investigations.

The software — which also tracks the video-sharing website Vine and the mobile app Foursquare — has a map function and the ability to translate more than 80 languages.

Authorities will use the software during potential disasters, major crime events, for emergency responses and for community outreach, they said.

Police told the Herald they don’t want to disclose too much information about the software to avoid giving criminals the upper hand. They say reviewing social media sites is routinely part of the investigative process and their hope is this will be another tool to track criminal behavior.

Authorities plan to use the software for investigative purposes only and have no intentions of using it to track everyday citizens, they said.

“We don’t want people to think we are out there monitoring people for no reason,” said sheriff’s office Detective Sgt. Kevin McCary.

It can be useful in preventing crimes, such as school shootings, and to help track suspects.

For example, the software would have been helpful during a recent weeks-long search for a homicide suspect who posted to social media while on the run, as well as last year’s explosion at the natural gas storage facility in Plymouth, officials said.

“If you take a bomb threat at a high school, for example, every kid in the world is going to be tweeting about it,” said Richland Capt. Mike Cobb. “We have to have that (intelligence) from publicly sourced information.”

The funding will cover software licenses for the departments for three years.

©2015 Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.)