Police are using Facebook and Twitter to bust street food vendors in Chicago, demonstrating law enforcement’s increasing savvy with social media to track suspects — even delicious ones.
Unlike in New York and L.A., food trucks are a recent phenomenon in Chicago, as the Midwestern city has complicated, strict food service laws.
Chicago’s fledgling food truck scene is gaining popularity and using Twitter and Facebook to tell customers their routes. Chicago’s byzantine licensing laws make it very difficult for food trucks to set up shop legally, so police are tracking the trucks’ online posts to catch them parked in the wrong zones or serving food too close to restaurants.
Food purveyors alerting potential customers to their whereabouts using popular social media isn’t totally new in the Windy City. An older Chicago food staple, a mysterious figure known as The Tamale Guy, grew in underground popularity to the point of fans creating a Twitter account to track his footsteps throughout the city night. Tamale Guy swoops into bars by foot to peddle his superlative snacks, so with any luck the police campaign will let him slide, or face the wrath of thousands of tamale devotees.
The food-truck crackdown demonstrates how law enforcement departments are using social media to follow and apprehend lawbreakers.
Police are using Facebook to hunt down more nefarious criminals than food trucks, tracking suspected child abusers using the social networking site, and looking at posted pictures for potential abusive behavior.
The Boston Police Department harvested evidence about Craigslist killer suspect Phil Markoff with a subpoena, gaining access to his messages and detailed account history on Facebook.
On the flip side, sometimes social media is used to thwart police efforts, as Twitter users have harnessed the site to avoid police, posting warnings to other users about police roadblocks.
Food trucks are gaining popularity in Chicago, and despite police efforts, they are unlikely to disappear. The city may reform its vending laws and allow the trucks more leeway to peddle tasty tacos and other treats.
But police use of social media, however, is likely here to stay, as law enforcement is getting wise to the advantages of the wealth of public information willingly displayed online.