The Dubuque police department monitors social media to track and respond to threats in the Dubuque area.
The police department will now focus some attention on social media in response to the alleged shooting threat directed toward Dubuque Senior High School on February 22. This allows the police department to not only respond quickly to confirmed threats but also to control any hearsay about discredited threats. The Dubuque community and its institutions benefit from the police department’s efforts to monitor social media.
For special circumstances, like the Dubuque Senior High School shooting threat, the police department will assign an officer to monitor social media for threats, according to Joe Messerich, a Lieutenant on the Dubuque police force. However, the police department does not staff specific police officers to oversee social media for threats. Instead, the police department has intelligence officers who gather vital information and relay it to the police officers.
Although, Lt. Messerich said all officers are expected to act as intelligence officers to find trends on social media – whether it involves underage house parties, gang-related posts, or possible threats – and relay the information to the department.
Another way officers monitor social media is during their own time when they are off-duty. If the officers peruse their social media accounts and come across something alarming, then they are expected to use their judgment to consider if it is a threat. “It doesn’t matter who you are,” said Lt. Messerich. “You’ll find information on something on social media.”
To report any threats, call the Dubuque police department at (563)589-4415 or Crime Stoppers at (800)747-0117.
Lt. Messerich said the now-discredited Dubuque Senior High School shooting threat was a rumor that “spread like wildfire” because social media users would share the story without any credible sources.
The rumor forced the police department to follow more leads and investigate more individuals, to which they dedicated one police officer to sift through social media for information on the possible shooting threat. This assigned officer would then contact people to see if the threats circulated were credible.
The Walk Out on March 14 was another circumstance that compelled the police department to monitor for threats. Those who participated in the Walk Out to protest gun violence left the safety of their school/building to march to Washington Park. The latter location is an open area which exposed individuals to possible threats; so, the police department had to take all precautions necessary to protect students and community members involved.
The police department monitored the “National Walk-Out Day – Dubuque” Facebook page and analyzed users’ comments to determine if they were possible threats. The police department needed a solid understanding of the threat-level during the Walk Out, and they turned their attention to Facebook to analyze the situation.
Lt. Messerich said, “We must know if 50 people from Loras or 2,000 people from the community are going to determine the level of safety.”
The police department monitoring social media for threats benefits the community and its institutions. Clarke University, a private Catholic university, benefits from the police department’s examination of social media.
Sister Joanne, Clarke University’s President, showed excitement and support for Dubuque monitoring social media. She said, “Lots of people and groups monitor social media. Clarke does. People are naïve if they think their texts and tweets and whatever are not being monitored. Given the pervasiveness of social media and the increased incidents of violence, I think the monitoring of social media by law enforcement is increasingly necessary.”
Sr. Joanne continued, “Such surveillance could provide our campus community with an advanced warning about a potential threat of violence or alert us to any abusive behavior being perpetrated by or directed at a member of our campus community.”
Laura Naber is a Clarke University student directly affected by the Dubuque Senior High School shooting threat.
Laura said, “As a student teacher at Dubuque Senior High School this year, I was affected by the supposed shooter threat in late February when classes were canceled for an entire day. While the administration and police handled the threat with the utmost concern and professionalism, the incident caused me to reflect on my future career in education and the influence of social media in the classroom and society.”
Laura continued, “While social media can be a great tool for communication, it has also become a negative pool where people post ignorant comments and bully others through an LED screen. Because this is becoming more and more of an issue, I think it is
important for police officers to monitor social media posts for potential violence and threats. If there are serious issues and concerns circulating the internet, law enforcement should be made aware so that immediate action and protection can be taken to avoid any detriment to innocent people.”
Caitlyn Ambrosy is a life-long Dubuque resident who attends Clarke University. She said, “In a society where social media is an ever-growing presence to which many believe there is a sense of anonymity and lack of consequences, a law enforcement presence is necessary. In the instance of the threat towards Senior High School, having a police presence on social media allowed for a quick, tactical, and thorough response to investigate the threat and protect the students.”
By Kyle Majerus