We’ve heard a lot over the past year about police body cameras, and departments stocking up on MRAPs and assault rifles.

But there’s a more benign tool that police are using more than ever. Facebook.

This week, I wrote about Aaron Harvey, a young man who spent most of his life in Lincoln Park, and who is among a group of 15 men being charged with conspiracy under a never-before-used law. The district attorney has admitted that Harvey didn’t know about the shootings at the center of the case, but they say he benefited from them because he’s  a member of the Lincoln Park gang.

Whether you believe the DA, who says Harvey is a hardcore gangster, or Harvey, who says he’s not in a gang at all, is beside the point. The big question is whether we should be putting people away for having the wrong friends or being part of a group whose members commit crimes – even if the person being charged didn’t commit one.

Much of the evidence the DA has collected is from Facebook. One gang prosecutor told me they’re dealing with “the Wild West” on the internet right now – gang members advertising women for prostitution, threatening rivals and asserting their territory by posting photos with weapons.

Some of the men are tied to the Lincoln Park gang because of hand signs they’re flashing in Facebook photos and the clothing or accessories they’re wearing that use their street names and the name of the gang. (I couldn’t see the posts at issue in this case because they’re in the courtroom ahead of next month’s trial. Instead, I received descriptions of the posts from the DA’s office.)

For what it’s worth, law enforcement has never bothered me over this Facebook pic in which I’m wearing blue, a known Crips identifier, and flashing a sign representing my hood, McMinnville, Ore. (For the record, I’m not a fan of how I look in this pic, but it’s not the first time I’ve posted an unflattering picture here to make a point.)


The district attorney’s office isn’t the only local law enforcement agency using Facebook proactively.

Last month, Andrew Keatts explored the Sheriff’s Department’s Operation Lemon Drop. A big part of that effort involved using data to determine where potential offenders might congregate. Some of it came from Facebook (emphasis mine):

Data analysts comb for clues in available information — gang affiliation, prior arrest records, DMV files, any information from traffic stops or other police interactions that didn’t lead to an arrest, prior probation records, anything at their disposal. …

Analysts then look for connections between all the prolific offenders and their known associates to create a “link chart” that looks something like a family tree. Myers says it’s a simple visualization of an active criminal network. …

The department then monitored their public social media feeds and found they all spent a lot of time on the trolley. They decided the Lemon Grove trolley stop would be a good place to intercept them.

Maybe the Wild West is a good analogy – you just have to be wary of the marshal ion top of the gunslingers.

• Dept. of Good Timing: The amazing Amanda Hess launched a new column this week on the culture of the internet. The first installment is on Reddit users who roam the site looking for suicidal messages, then get help to the people posting them.

What VOSD Learned This Week

This week, Andrew Keatts kicked off his effort to understand a huge trove of permitting data the city released after inquiries from Voice of San Diego. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve found so far:

The city is getting faster at issuing permits. That’s not all thanks to the city, though – the recession and the real estate market likely factored into the equation. The same is true when it comes to Civic San Diego, the nonprofit that handles permitting downtown. The data shows the group is indeed faster at OKing permits, but part of the reason why has nothing to do with Civic San Diego itself or its efficiency. Finally, community plans play a huge role in how long it takes a project to get approved.

What Else We Learned:

• One Paseo developer Kilroy Realty has a unique strategy for blocking the anti-One Paseo movement.

• Attorney Michael Conger has collected nearly $10 million from various San Diego government agencies over the years.

• San Diego pols are primed for another round of musical chairs.

• Goldman Sachs might have a strong financial interest in the Chargers moving to Los Angeles.

• Kevin Faulconer is not the lowest-paid big-city mayor.

• Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez wants the city to keep a tight leash on Civic San Diego.

• Council President Sherri Lightner thinks One Paseo is “very dumb growth,” she appeared on our podcast this week.

What I’m Reading

Most of my reading this week fell into two distinct but equally vital categories.

The Week in Snacks

• An important investigation into where your Girl Scout cookies come from.  (L.A. Times)

• The best snack tattoos. (Fusion)

• Indian food is delicious. Why? BECAUSE SCIENCE. (Washington Post)

• Don’t mess with the pizza lobby. (Bloomberg)

• “Top Chef” might head to San Diego. Related: I’m quitting my job to pursue my dream of Top Chef guest-judging full time. HI, BRAVO CASTING TEAM! (Eater SD)

Lady Business

• Dave Rolland’s tribute to Kelly Davis is wonderful. Check out Davis’ IndieGoGo campaign to fund her criminal justice reporting efforts in San Diego.

• This Buzzfeed post of teens watching classic ’90s music videos is funny – BUT, this quote is slightly terrifying: “I thought it was in 2010 women were being objectified but now I feel like it started earlier than I thought.”

• The New York Times profiles “the Colored Girls” – a group of five women who have risen to the top of Democratic politics.

• Get ready to be infuriated: The University of Oregon accessed a rape survivor’s therapy records and tried to use the information against her in a lawsuit over the rape. (Chronicle of Higher Ed)

• Ann Friedman on whether it’s possible to be a badass lady who also has feelings. (New York)

Line of the Week

It might seem counterintuitive, but it takes a writer as knowledgeable and skilled as Dahlia Lithwick to write a line like: “And across the courtroom, progressives pee just a little in joy.”

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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