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Looting in Philadelphia: How social media is playing a key role

Social media playing a key role in rash of looting in Philadelphia
Social media playing a key role in rash of looting in Philadelphia 02:52

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Investigators say social media has played such a key role in a rash of looting this week in Philadelphia.  

Both for criminals and for the police trying to catch them. 

At the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center in South Philly, the Philadelphia Police Department is monitoring public social media posts to try to stay ahead of these large criminal meetups. 

RELATED: Some Philadelphia liquor stores closed "until further notice" after looting

They've been instrumental this week as police look to stay ahead of looters who have ransacked stores across the city. 

Investigators said they believe the looters are using social media to organize. Many of them are even livestreaming themselves in the act. But law enforcement wants these people to know they are watching – many times even before these criminals hit the street.

Lt. John McDonald said his teams keep an eye on the chatter – looking for keywords and phrases that could be signs of criminal activity. He said one key for them is being able to sort out what's real and what's not. 

"The information comes out so fast, and the problem is there's so much information, some of it simply isn't true," McDonald said. "It's a distraction mechanism that's used against us too. They say they're going to 'X' when they're really going to 'Y.' So we have to assess that too, it's constantly fluid."  

RELATED: Philadelphia looting aftermath: 52 people arrested, 2 cars recovered

Of course, staying ahead of these criminals on social media remains a big challenge for police. But McDonald believes they've done a lot of good work over the last few nights to get officers in the right spots. 

McDonald pointed to 2020 when the city saw mass looting as a real turning point for the work they do. 

"We learned a lot in 2020. We learned a lot of things that did work, that didn't work as well. Basically, we're in the first responder business so we're trying to get the information out as quickly as possible," McDonald said. "And unfortunately a lot of those events in 2020, we've gotten very good at what we do and we use a lot of those blueprints going forward."  

The monitoring doesn't stop at the command center. 

RELATED: Stores looted in Center City, North Philadelphia and Northeast Philadelphia

McDonald said they've also trained officers to be able to spot things in the field. Those can then get reported back to the command center and assessed to help with this whole process. 

Police said they'll continue to be on guard throughout the weekend and at the command center are going to be on the front lines of that. 

How Philadelphia police are using social media to try and stay ahead of looters 02:02
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