University police departments use social media to monitor crime

Wynne Davis

Police departments across the nation now use Yik Yak, a social media app, to monitor crime reports. 

Campus police departments in South Dakota and Wisconsin started using Yik Yak, which functions as an anonymous, GPS-based message board, to monitor criminal activity on campus and aid in criminal investigations. Under the application’s privacy policy, information is disclosed to law enforcement officials when necessary to prevent or respond to illegal activity.

According to UT police spokeswoman Cindy Posey, UTPD is not currently monitoring Yik Yak activity on and around campus.

“It’s a possibility, but I can’t say for sure that we’ll do it,” Posey said.

Posey said she was informed of other campuses’ use of Yik Yak at a social media conference in January.

“I thought it was very interesting that they were doing it, and I got on it and looked at it and checked it out,” Posey said. “I can see where it could be useful for law enforcement.”

Biology senior Makenzie Harris said she thinks UTPD might benefit from monitoring UT’s Yik Yak feed, but she hasn’t seen any posts involving
illegal activity.

“From what I’ve seen, Yik Yak is more about jokes than drug exchanges,” Harris said. “But if most of the investigations lead to a dead end … I don’t see the point in obsessing over an iPhone app that just seems to provide entertainment for procrastinating and bored college students.”

Posey said the department does monitor other social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, for potentially useful information. The department has public profiles on both sites.

“We keep an eye on everything, just looking for anything that might rise to the level of concern … just like any other police department would,” Posey said.

Alex Patlan, communication sciences and disorders senior, said he thinks it is intrusive for police to monitor student social media activity, even when posts are public.

“Plenty of people use social media as an outlet, and I am all for [being cautious about] what you put on the Internet, but I know I don’t intend for law enforcement to read up on my profiles,” Patlan said.