Operation FaceBOOKED: Chicago police blame social media giant for ’emboldening’ criminals

Chicago police are trying to rid the city’s streets of illegal guns and drugs, but Facebook is making their job all the more difficult, officers said Tuesday.

Over the course of a two-year investigation — code-named “Operation FaceBOOKED” — officers arrested 53 people involved with illegal gun and drug sales in hidden groups on the social media site. While Facebook shut down the groups in question, the site refuses to block the members of those groups, police say.

“Social media conglomerates like Facebook are encouraging this type of illegal activity by turning a blind eye in the name of member privacy,” said interim superintendent  Charlie Beck, who took office Monday night following the firing of Chicago’s former police chief Eddie Johnson.

Officers also expressed frustration with Facebook for shutting down the fake profiles of undercover officers, saying the site should allow law enforcement to operate with covert identities for the public good.

The company’s policies ban fake accounts. Law enforcement authorities, like all other platform users, are required to use their real names, according to Facebook spokesperson Sarah Pollack. Facebook routinely responds to valid law enforcement requests for information and provides operational guidelines to law enforcement who seek records from Facebook, she said.

The company also prohibits private firearms sales on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook has removed 7 million pieces of drug sale content and 4.8 million pieces of firearm sales content in the last six months, according to Pollack. The company catches more than 97% of drug sales and more than 93% of firearms sales before they are reported, she said.

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Former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, left, who was named interim police superintendent in Chicago by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, addresses a news conference with First Deputy Superintendent Anthony Riccio, right, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019.

During the investigation, undercover officers infiltrated seven unsearchable groups and purchased seven guns and 23 types of narcotics in 147 undercover buys, police said.

One of four men arrested Monday night, Thomas Lucas, 27, of the city’s northside Logan Square neighborhood, pled guilty in a 2017 CPD investigation into Facebook, police said. He was placed on probation but immediately resumed selling heroin on Facebook.

“Facebook’s refusal to remove Lucas’s profile from the website after his initial run-in with the police led him to continue to sell drugs on Facebook,” said deputy superintendent Anthony Riccio. “The bottom line is that offenders are emboldened by the privacy afforded by Facebook. This has created a thriving market where guns and drugs are priced high and sold fast.”

Undercover officers also purchased an assault rifle with a 30-round magainze on Facebook from a man who was in Chicago while on parole in Texas. The man had posted a video of himself using the semi-automatic rifle to Facebook. Others charged in the investigation traded drugs for weapons, which they sold on Facebook, police said.

“The truth is, Facebook is harboring criminals,” Riccio said.

Lucas was scheduled to appear in court in Chicago Tuesday.

10,000 guns confiscated from Chicago streets in 2019

In a press conference last week, Chicago police announced that officers had confiscated 10,000 guns so far in 2019. That equates to about one illegal gun every 48 minutes — more than the combined total of guns confiscated in New York City and Los Angeles this year, police said.

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In the press conference, former police chief Eddie Johnson called for universal backgrounds checks and the end of gun shows and online gun sales.

“It’s easy for the criminal eleemnt in Chicago to go across the borders, fill up a duffle bag with guns and then distribute them throughout our city,” Johnson said. “Until we stop those kinds of flows, we’re going to continue to see this problem.”

Last year, Chicago police confiscated 9,800 guns, Johnson. said.

The department reported 1,958 shooting incidents and 452 murders as of Nov. 24 this year — the fewest murders at this point in the year since 2015.

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