Philly police show aptitude for tracking criminals camouflaged in technology

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 Police tracked down a suspect in an East Germantown firebombing  after connecting his cell phone to threatening, anonymous text messages sent through the app Pinger. (Electronic image via pinger.com)

Police tracked down a suspect in an East Germantown firebombing after connecting his cell phone to threatening, anonymous text messages sent through the app Pinger. (Electronic image via pinger.com)

A Philadelphia court case is shining a light on the intersection of technology and crime in the city.

Leonard Monroe is charged with arson, stalking and aggravated assault in connection with a firebombing in East Germantown.

During his preliminary hearing this week, Detective Steven Parkinson testified that investigators tracked down Monroe after connecting his cell phone to threatening, anonymous text messages sent through the app Pinger.

After registering, the free program provides users with a third-party, “fictitious” phone number.

“It couldn’t have come from any other phone,” explained Parkinson during Monday’s proceedings.

Philadelphia Sgt. Eric Gripp said the department has fielded a number of cases like Monroe’s.

He expects more.

Whether they use lesser-known apps such as Pinger or household names including Facebook and Craigslist, criminals continue to turn to technology to hide their identities and illegal activities.

Problem is, said Gripp, it’s not that hard for police to peel off that layer of secrecy and make an arrest.

“We just put in a request with these companies, they send it to us and a lot of times it comes right back to a home address once we have the IP address,” said Gripp.

Circumstantial evidence typically takes care of the rest.

Still, Gripp said, officers have to work hard not to fall behind.

“Right now Facebook is big, Twitter is big, Instagram is growing every day. And that’s where you’re going to see folks go,” he said. “Because if there’s individuals to be taken advantage of, the criminals will be right there behind them.”

Even Philadelphia police have been targeted this way.

A Camden man was recently arrested after anonymously posting on the Philly department’s Facebook page a threat to kill an undercover cop.

He was in custody within hours of the post.

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