Last spring, Bensalem police detective Joseph Sciscio got a tip on a drug dealer in the usual way: through a confidential informant. But rather than conducting a stakeout, Sciscio found himself tracking his suspect on social networking site MySpace, where, with just a few clicks of his mouse, he had his man: SnOwWhiTeReSiDu, a 17-year-old with a profile as subtle as porn. Amidst photos of marijuana joints and Ecstasy pills, the teen claimed his occupation as “supplier.” Within a few days, Sciscio raided SnOwWhiTeReSiDu’s house, and arrested him for possession of marijuana.
It was Sciscio’s first encounter with MySpace—and the first drug arrest in Bensalem to stem from online detective work. Since then, Sciscio and other officers in Bensalem’s Special Investigations Unit have made some 50 arrests of criminals who’ve taken to the Web to advertise their wares. “I can do investigations without even leaving my desk,” says the eight-year veteran of the force. “The Internet is now my confidential informant.”
Using the Internet as an investigative tool isn’t new, but Bensalem is the rare local department that devotes two officers to trolling the likes of MySpace to catch drug dealers. Sciscio also regularly haunts eBay for Bensalem residents buying or selling drug paraphernalia. On Craigslist, he found women candidly offering sex for cash in Philly and the suburbs. Sciscio and his colleagues simply respond to the ads, meet up at a Bensalem hotel, and make the arrests.
So far, the stings have netted relatively small-time crooks —including a graffiti ring that vandalized Bensalem for weeks and then bragged about it on MySpace. But one recent arrest proves the potential for such investigations: Philadelphian Anthony Payne posted a Craigslist ad for “E pills.” Using an alias, Sciscio called Payne to order 40 Ecstasy pills, then arrested the 21-year-old at their meeting. Through Payne, Sciscio got the name of his source, who was later caught by Philly cops with a stash of marijuana, cocaine, guns, and $8,000 in cash.