Raven Rakia

How the NYPD Uses Facebook to Surveil, Entrap and Arrest Teenagers

In October 2012, then-New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced a new initiative, called “Operation Crew Cut,” which would target gang activity by focusing on so-called street crews. Kelly doubled the size of the anti-gang unit to 300 police officers, assigned to the task of surveilling teenagers on Facebook. Many of these kids are under 18, some as young as 12, and just about all of them are black and brown, from low-income neighborhoods. The officers involved are encouraged to make fake Facebook profiles in order to spy on individuals’ Facebook statuses. The operation often entails reading private Facebook messages between friends and is sometimes coupled with phone and video surveillance. Soon press releases were coming out of the NYPD offices announcing dozens of alleged gang members had been arrested due to the Crew Cut initiative. 

The operation began to draw criticism, however, as people questioned why teenagers were being arrested on obscure conspiracy charges that were meant to take down serious organized crime. One teenager, Jelani Henry, said he was held in Rikers for nearly three years simply because of his associations on Facebook and his likes and comments on various Facebook posts.

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