After Periscope DUI, Police Chief Sees Social Media as Double-Edged Sword

Larry GiddensA young woman’s use of Periscope to broadcast her drunken drive through Lakeland worries Police Chief Larry Giddens, but he acknowledges it also points to social media tools police can use to solve crimes.

“What worries me is what’s the next thing somebody is going to use this for?” he said this morning at an open-to-the-public “chief’s chat” scheduled well before the DUI story that broke Monday received international attention.

He is concerned about copy cats who might broadcast themselves in other crimes to get attention, he told a gathering of about 20 people at the Village Inn — half of them current or former law enforcement officers.

Yet he acknowledged he is grateful that a young officer was able to use the Periscope app on her personal smartphone to help apprehend the young driver and that it can be helpful for officers to use social media for official business.

Periscope, a smartphone app that was acquired by Twitter earlier this year, has been downloaded more than 10 million times. Users can easily broadcast live videos that can be seen on phones and computer monitors worldwide.

The incident will probably lead to LPD training some officers in how to use Periscope and similar technology, department public information officer Gary Gross told USA Today.

“It’s probably technology like anything else we’ll look at and probably have selected individuals within the police department will be trained to be able to use it,” Gross said.

The Lakeland case resulting in the DUI arrest of 23-year-old Whitney Marie Beall isn’t the first incident of somebody being charged with a crime they live-streamed. The Washington Post and Boston Globe reported several previous incidents, including thieves showing off their goods and two teens broadcasting themselves breaking into an ice cream truck.

An NBC Today Show report on the Lakeland case mentioned similar cases and quoted from a survey saying that eight out of 10 law enforcement professionals use social media to investigate crimes.

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At this morning’s session, Giddens said he sympathizes with Beall because of the media glare brought by her Periscope video. He explained later, “I don’t think she really understands at her tender age exactly what she was doing or the consequences that will follow. But is this going to cause somebody to do something even more (outrageous)?”

The incident clearly shows the need for police to become more familiar with social media, he said. “We’ve got to get on top of that game.”

When a man who viewed Beall’s drive on Periscope called 911 to report it, the dispatcher asked him to describe Periscope. “She quickly realized, ‘Hey, what is Periscope?’ She started asking the caller,” Giddens said. “Thank goodness he was very accommodating and took the time to explain to her and even offered to give her his personal phone and if she had questions she could call him back.”

While LPD has a social media policy that reminds employees to uphold the department’s reputation online, there doesn’t seem to be a clear policy about who can use social-media apps on their department-issued smartphones. In an email, Giddens said 50 employees have been given smartphones (32 supervisors, 18 detectives) and “There is flexibility to utilize these applications depending on your work assignment.  There are guidelines in place that recommend professional conduct, etc.”

When asked by a reporter if LPD will pursue charges against the downtown Lakeland bars where Beall drank Friday night, he said he would consult with his staff and the State Attorney’s Office to determine if charges are warranted.

Beall’s attorney, Lee Cohen, told reporters today that Beall will plead not guilty to the DUI charge. He declined to comment about the video evidence.

Here is a video capture LPD made from the Periscope videos. Normally, Periscope videos stay online for just 24 hours, so police used capture technology to preserve it. Warning: There are expletives aplenty.