After an incident involving a man armed with a hammer and kitchen knife who took a hostage and used their computer to post Facebook messages, the Pittsburgh police is getting social media training in order to know how to react in future similar situations.
In the mentioned case of Klein Michael Thaxton, authorities waited for hours before he surrendered and released the randomly picked hostage from a downtown office tower. During this time he made his troubles public using that person’s computer. It was a first for the police in the city as they had to make a decision on whether to close the suspects’ page or to let him continue to post to see what he had to say.
“I think it’s something we will train for in the future,” said Lt. Jason Lando, who acted as a coach to the primary negotiator, Officer Matt Lackner.
It is not easy to know which the best way of approaching such a situation is and Gary Noesner, a former chief of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit said that his instinct would have advised him to instantly shut down that account, but also admitted that the suspect could have offered important information through it.
“The whole social media situation is really fascinating, the impact it is having on operations,” he added.
Not many details from this case have been made public, as they are the object of an ongoing investigation. However, it seems that during the four hours until the police intervened and closed the page, Thaxton’s posts generated about 700 responses. Police representatives wanted to establish a personal and direct relation with him, to win his trust, and these messages from other people could have been a problem, depending on their content.
“Any outside influence is distracting and, generally speaking, does not help our cause,” Cmdr. Scott Schubert said. “We want our subject speaking to us.”
Social media is more intensively used by all types of people, all over the world. There were many cases where people posted threats or mentions of suicidal acts on such sites and then acted on those messages. Such a hostage situation, with instant updates in order to have the kidnapper’s voice heard, is indeed a real challenge for any police representative, and dedicated training that will allow officers to understand how social media works and how they can solve such situations is definitely a brilliant idea.