by Jerry Anderson
TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - A dangerous trend is moving around social media: flash mobs.
Almost everyone has seen viral videos of flash mobs coalescing from the chaos of a crowded mall or train station to perform a fun, spirited and sometimes moving choral piece or dance routine.
But sometimes the fun choreography devolves into something dangerous and criminal.
WTOL 11's Jerry Anderson spoke with Lieutenant Mike Troendle of the Toledo Police Department's technical crime section to find out what they are doing to track and prevent these dangerous gatherings.
So powerful is the voice of social media, that it is given much of the credit for helping to fuel government overthrows in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
Some people harness that power to do something fun, others use it to coordinate lawlessness. There are examples in many U.S. cities of criminals using the anonymity and overwhelming power of a large group to commit mass theft.
"I mean somebody invents something, and it might be for something good, somebody finds a way to use it for evil," said Troendle.
To combat the negative use of flash mobs, the TPD is joining forces with a computer crimes task force that includes the Oregon and Perrysburg police departments, as well as the FBI and Secret Service.
Their computers and sophisticated law enforcement software are being used to solve crimes and maybe prevent them.
"The Internet's a big place but there's nothing on the Internet that's truly anonymous," said Detective Dave Morford, TPD computer crime unit.
But the police are not the only one's looking for flash mobs online. People who have nothing to do with the event can slip in and use the event to cover their crimes.
In Venice Beach, California a flash mob became unruly, then a gun appeared and a person was critically wounded.
"It might be somebody else that has a grudge against you, or somebody else that wants to infiltrate your group and do something bad," said Troendle.
Troendle said the technical crime section does not blindly scan social media and other media to seek out flash mobs.
"How many millions of people are on Facebook? It would be searching for a needle in a haystack," said Troendle.
But like more and more law enforcement agencies around the country, TPD is stepping up to get an upper hand on potential bad guys.
"Our department is starting to do that now with a crime analysis unit. Gathering data and trying to predict things ahead of time," said Detective Dave Morford, TPD computer crime unit.
Data useful to helping to prevent and prosecute flash mobs gone awry can come from public records, police reports, blogs or social media.
"We're going to gather every piece of information we can to put that investigation together," said Troendle.
Even so, police are creating a new way to accept tips from online users: a Facebook page.
"We're not really advanced in that area at this point. We are taking steps to increase our ability to accept information from the community," said Troendle.
If you have questions, it promises answers. If you have tips, it promises action.
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