Stateways Nov-Dec 2011

StateWays is the only magazine exclusively covering the control state system within the beverage alcohol industry, with annual updates from liquor control commissions and alcohol control boards and yearly fiscal reporting from control jurisdictions

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TECHNOLOGY Update Digital Field Operations By Jeremy Nedelka S ocial media is a two-way street. Many control jurisdictions have begun using Facebook, Twitter and other digital tools to communicate with con- stituents, but Virginia recently turned the tables. The Virginia ABC and the state's Bureau of Law Enforcement began using social sites to investigate and monitor what potential law- breakers are doing and saying. By setting up profiles on Facebook, eBay and Craigslist, the bureau was able to seize stills, moonshine, marijuana and firearms, as well as charge suspects with felonies for ille- gal manufacturing of alcohol and other offenses. "We realize there is a world out there where com- merce is being driven by social media, and in a virtual environment illicit trade is very accessible," says Shawn Walker, the ABC's Director of Field Operations. "Here at the Virginia ABC we have some very creative and industrious special agents that jumped in and started looking around. They readily found violations and pursued them." Once the decision was made to monitor social activity, the learning curve for agents was very short and the efforts showed results quickly. "Agents began looking on Craigslist to see what they could find and once we discovered illegal activity, we treated it like any other covert criminal investiga- tion," Walker says. "The personal experience of our agents was their primary experience for launching this investigation, but we plan to incorporate advanced training for agents in order to continue with these types of investigations in the future." The agency wasn't sure what they would find when 6 they began scanning websites for illegal activity, but they were certainly surprised by how easy it was to catch criminals. "I was surprised by the blatant nature of the listings," Walker says. "I would tell other jurisdictions to consult prosecutors to get appropriate legal advice and then log onto sites like eBay and Craigslist and look around. They may be surprised at what they find." "We realize there is a world out there where commerce is being driven by social media, and in a virtual environment illicit trade is very accessible." — Shawn Walker, Director of Field Operations, Virginia ABC For Virginia, this is just the beginning of a long process of understanding the digital element of these crimes and delving into how social technology can help the agency prevent and punish offenses. "We need to be prepared and stay current with, or even ahead of, the technology curve and how violators are using that technology," Walker says. "By doing that, control agencies will be positioned to address these illegal activities well into the future." SW Visit to learn what tech the Virginia Dept. of ABC is using, or use your smart phone to instantly scan this image. StateWays s s November/December 2011

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