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NYPD beefs up gang unit after Facebook success

The New York Police Department brought down two gangs using evidence gathered from the social network; because of this achievement it is now beefing up its online investigative unit.

Tribute Facebook page for "Very Crispy Gangsters" member Taquan "Tay Weez" Crandell who was murdered by a "Rockstarz" gang member in 2009. Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

After a resounding success last month in hauling in 49 alleged gang members using evidence posted to Facebook, the New York Police Department announces its plans to expand its online investigative department.

According to the Associated Press, the department's commissioner Raymond Kelly announced today that the NYPD will fortify its social media sleuthing and double the size of its gang unit up to 300 investigators.

"By capitalizing on the irresistible urge of these suspects to brag about their murderous exploits on Facebook, detectives used social media to draw a virtual map of their criminal activity over the last three years," Kelly said at a law enforcement convention, according to the Associated Press.

The NYPD nabbed the 49 gangsters after monitoring their Facebook posts and status updates for three years. The suspects hailed from two warring gangs, the "Rockstarz" and the "Very Crispy Gangsters" (VCG). As the two gangs fought over turf, they increasingly brought their threats, taunting, and grandstanding to Facebook.

The commissioner said that the rival gangs would "friend" each other and then post threats on each other's walls. One of the key Facebook posts that helped bring down the gangs was when a member of the Rockstarz posted "Rockstarz are up 3-0," referencing the body count of gang members.

Since the NYPD took down these groups, other police departments around the U.S. have said they use social media to solve crimes and search for evidence on suspects. According to the Associated Press, authorities in Atlanta, San Diego, and Chicago also use Facebook to gather information.

"It's no different than interviewing a witness or knocking door to door, doing canvasses," Atlanta Police Department spokesman Carlos Campos told the Associated Press. "Technology has just given us another angle for investigating."