Innovative technology helping law enforcement in the Valley

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

TEMPE, Ariz. -- An innovative use of technology that's becoming a growing trend is helping law enforcement in the Valley.

In late March, the Tempe Police Department got a tip that a Junior at Marcos de Niza High School was posting threats on Twitter that he was going to shoot people on campus.

He was arrested the next day before class. Police got the tip in a manner similar to the forum in which the boy is accused of posting the threats.

"Here at the Tempe Police Department, we really try to use technology any way we can, whether it's through this company," said Sgt. Michael Pooley.

Enter Geofeedia, the tipster in the case.

"Roughly 18 months to two years ago, we had a prototype, but we really didn't know who would see value in the data," says Geofeedia CEO, Phil Harris.

Businesses did, as a way to help with customer service by tracking comments made on social media geographically.

Geofeedia then started developing into a way to mine social data for keywords, and images, to help enforce the law, identify criminals, and investigate crimes.

Geofeedia spotted, and monitored, the boy's posts online.

"We can slice the social media data set, or the social cloud, into a refined set of results by geography, and even allow the law enforcement group to drill down to even a block, or even a park, or a building," said Harris.

The Marcos de Niza tip was given to Tempe PD for free, and was a first for the department, along with almost every local law enforcement agency in Arizona.

"The majority of crimes that are solved are because of tips, people who are willing to talk to the police, people who are willing to come forward," said Sgt. Pooley.

But Geofeedia is bound by the law, too. It can only mine social media accounts that are public.

The company is still in its fledgling stages, so a lot of research and development is still going into it.

Increasing numbers of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies are entering into contracts with Geofeedia as it adapts and progresses.