LMPD, ACLU clash over social media surveillance

Updated: Nov. 15, 2016 at 11:42 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - For more than two years, the Louisville Metro Police Department has actively monitored millions of social media posts throughout Metro Louisville.

The program recently generated attention and criticism after a public radio report and an LMPD Facebook post about the program.

Tuesday, Assistant Chief Robert Schroeder spoke publicly about it for the first time, saying it's an effective way to stop crime.

"This is not some massive database we have within LMPD where we're tracking the pictures you post about your cats and dogs," Schroeder said.

The department uses a site called Snaptrends, which looks at social media posts that hit search terms like gun, beat, etc. in a specific geographic area. 

"It really is an effective tool," Schroeder said. "We post a lot about our daily lives on social media. So do criminals. They'll actually post pictures of crimes they're committing; post live feeds of crimes they're committing." 

LMPD started using Snaptrends after teenage mob violence in March of 2014 which was organized through social media.

"We received a lot of criticism from the public because we weren't aware of the situation brewing on social media and there really was a public outcry," he said.

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Now, records show LMPD spends $33,800 a year for a subscription and can look at unlimited profiles and store nearly 9 million posts.

The ACLU has come out strongly against the program.

"There is such so much unclarity about how it's being used," Amber Duke, the Kentucky ACLU communications director, said. "We were very troubled by it and even more troubled by the fact that they, did not, at least to this point, haven't been able to provide us with any policies."

ACLU leaders plan to meet with LMPD on Thursday.

"These types of programs that can collect data on people, and hold it for an indefinite period of time need to have strong policies to protect people's civil liberties," Duke said. 

"We plan to review that policy with them, get their input and see how we can come to some kind of consensus on this," Schroeder said.

Schroeder said Snaptrends has been used for big events like Derby and Thunder Over Louisville. Officers have also checked out photos posted showing teens with guns, speaking with parents of the teens.

"Those conversations have gone, for the most part, very well," Schroeder said. "The parents were unaware of the activity, unaware that they're kids were even armed."

Despite a jump in shootings and homicides in 2015 and 2016, he calls the program effective.

"If we've prevented one shooting, I'd say it's well worth that," Schroeder said. "You've got to ask yourself how much worse it could be if we didn't have tools like these."

LMPD doesn't track the number of arrests made using the program or the number of times officers have been sent to talk to people about threatening posts. 

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