Crime & Justice

US Attorney General urges wider use of social media by police in LA

Black Lives Matter activists protest U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch at Facebook in Playa Vista on June 30, 2016. They were angry Lynch praised the LAPD's reform efforts.
Black Lives Matter activists protest U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch at Facebook in Playa Vista on June 30, 2016. They were angry Lynch praised the LAPD's reform efforts.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch wrapped up a visit to Los Angeles Thursday with a live streamed Facebook town hall at the company’s new facility in Playa Vista.

The topic: how police can use social media to improve relationships with communities angry over police shootings and perceptions of racial bias. 

The Obama Administration's Task Force on 21st Century Policing report— issued in the wake of a series of controversial police shootings—urged wider use of social media by law enforcement.

“We have to make people understand how we do things and why we do things, and social media is a driver of all of that” when it comes to young people, Lynch told an in-person crowd of about 40 and bigger online audience.

Lynch was interviewed by actor Michael B. Jordan, 29, who played Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station, a movie about Grant, an unarmed black man killed by a police officer in Oakland. 

“It’s just the way we get our news nowadays,” Jordan said of young people and social media.

Lynch praised the LAPD’s social media efforts, noting she was part of a "virtual ride-along" during her two-day visit.

“People are tuning in on Twitter to the LAPD website to see where I am on the tour,” she said.

Lynch also visited the department’s predictive policing center and attended a news conference launching the city's annual Summer Night Lights program that employs young people in parks to provide services to kids who otherwise might be getting into trouble.

The LAPD already uses social media extensively, said Officer Matthew Rejis of the department’s ten-member digital media unit. He attended the Lynch event at Facebook.

Using social media, the unit works to tell positive stories about police officers and to warn of crime trends. It also monitors organizations planning events in the city.

“We monitor a lot of different activities and planned protests and stuff like that to make sure the city is safe,” Rejis said. That's in addition to investigators who might search the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts of a suspect or victim to cultivate leads.

Outside the event, protestor Anthony Ratcliff of Black Lives Matter took issue with the department's monitoring efforts “because we understand that social media is often times used to surveil organizations.”

Sensitive matters like police shootings are rarely addressed by the LAPD on social media, said Ratcliff.

In the past, LAPD officials have said they use social media to quell rumors but are limited in what they can say about matters under investigation—like police shootings.

The LAPD  staffs its digital media unit daily from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m.

During her two-day visit to Los Angeles, Lynch also met with first responders to the December shooting in San Bernardino that left 14 people dead. She was also was briefed on the prosecution of Enrique Marquez, who allegedly bought two of the rifles used in the attack and plotted with Syed Rizwan Farook to launch earlier attacks that were never carried out.

Farook and his wife, Tashfin Malik carried out the attack in San Bernardino and died in a shootout with law enforcement.

Marquez is set to go on trial next March.