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How social media helped Boston police foil gunmen's Pokemon attack

Two Iowa men are facing charges of firearms possession relating to a plot to attack the Pokemon World Championships in Boston.

Two men who over social media threatened gun violence at the Pokemon World Championships in Boston are headed to court.

Kevin Norton and James Stumbo, both from Iowa, are set to be arraigned Monday on charges related to firearms possession, police said on Sunday. Authorities stopped the two men from entering Boston’s Hynes Convention Center Thursday after the venue’s security staff alerted police about threats of violence made over social media against participants at the Pokemon championships.

Police arrested them at a hotel in nearby Saugus a day later, following a search of their vehicle that “recovered one 12-gauge Remington shotgun, one DPMS Model AR-15 rifle, several hundred rounds of ammunition, and a hunting knife,” the Boston Police Department said in a statement.

The incident reflects the growing value of social media to law enforcement as a means to catch criminals as well as to connect with communities. In an annual survey of 600 law enforcement agencies in the United States, the International Association of the Chiefs of Police found that nearly 79 percent said social media has helped solve crimes in their jurisdiction, while close to 78 percent reported that it improved police-community relations in their districts.

A full 95 percent used social media in some capacity, the report found.

“Social media is increasingly valuable to the way law enforcement professionals operate in both crime prevention and investigation,” according to a 2014 study by legal research firm LexisNexis. “As personnel become even more familiar and comfortable using it, they will continue to find robust and comprehensive ways to incorporate emerging social media platforms into their daily routines, thus yielding additional success in interrupting criminal activity, closing cases and ultimately solving crimes.”

In the last two weeks alone, police have used social media to help find a stolen Playstation in Virginia, arrest a murder suspect on new charges in Dothan, Ala., and live-stream traffic stops to improve transparency in Fargo, N.D.

Even the St. Louis County Police Department in Missouri, which had only one public information officer when Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown last year, has embraced social media. At the commemoration of Mr. Brown’s death last week, “police officers provided a depth of coverage that almost resembled posts from local media outlets and citizen journalists,” Yahoo News reported.

In Boston, social media played a significant role in police monitoring of and communication with protesters involved in the Occupy movement in late 2011 and early 2012. The Boston Police Department began amplifying its presence on social media shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.

Today, the BPD has four officers running its social media accounts, and they make extra efforts to encourage officers to send in updates from their time on the ground, foster cooperation within the community, and relay information as quickly and accurately as possible, Rachel McGuire, one of the four officers, told Yahoo News.

“We can say, ‘This is what we’re doing out on the street. This is how much safer the streets are now,’ ” she said. “And the thing about social media is they can see it. We didn’t just get a gun off the street. They see the picture and say, ‘Oh, they got that gun.’ ”

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