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Police tell lawmakers they need help cracking down on crimes posted about on social media

A black Tallahassee police car parked among green trees.
Patrick Sternad
/
WFSU
Police say posts on social media can help them learn about youth gun violence before it happens, but they can't always step in.

Florida law enforcement officers say they often know through social media posts about youth gun violence before it happens. But sometimes their hands are tied.

Sen. Jason Pizzo (D-Miami) chairs his chamber’s Criminal Justice Committee. He says a teen illegally possessing a gun is a misdemeanor, but an officer has to be physically present to do anything about it.

“Kids know that I can be 14 years old and I can rack and load a Glock on Facebook, on Ticktock, on Instagram and you can’t do a darn thing about it because you’re not there," Pizzo says. "We have exceptions for racing, for domestic violence, for all kinds of things. We have no exception where you’re pretty sure that you’re watching a beef go back and forth."

Pizzo says he’d like to work with lawmakers on legislation that would give officers more leeway to intervene based on information posted online before a shooting takes place.

“If you’re the mother of a child who was just killed, wouldn’t you have liked if the legislature had stepped in and said we’re going to make a provision in law…where you can go knock on that 13-year-old’s door before he goes and takes someone’s life or gets killed,” Pizzo says.

Jason Moninger who supervises Leon County’s violent crimes special victims unit says another thing that makes investigating crimes posted about on social media difficult is the slow and limited response officers get from the companies.

"It’s not so much the Facebooks, the Instagrams for us anymore. It’s the snap chats, it’s the apps that a message is sent and then it’s gone and its hard to recover after that short of getting the device in our hand and being able to do a digital download of the phone and the digital files embedded in the phone or device," Moninger says. "For our investigations it’s paramount that we get hands on those devices because subpoenas and search warrants for the companies themselves are extremely limited in the information that they give us sometimes.”

Pizzo says that's an issue he hopes to look at during the upcoming lawmaking session as well. He spoke with law enforcement from across the state Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate criminal justice committee.