Instagram Account Targets, IDs Crime Witnesses: Cops

Police investigating individual behind 'rats215'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 8, 2013 12:21 PM CST
Police investigate the crime scene after an off-duty Philadelphia police officer was shot and killed, Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012, in North Philadelphia.   (AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek)
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(Newser) – Philadelphia police are on the hunt for an anonymous Instagram user who claimed to "expose rats" by identifying witnesses of violent crimes. Posting more than 150 pictures, plus police statements and testimony, the "rats215" account has named more than 30 witnesses since February in a city where finding people to testify is already challenging, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Though the account has almost 8,000 followers, police were only clued in to the leaks last week, the AP reports. The account warned witnesses, "we will get at you in time," while comments from followers included messages like, "Post some new rats. I needa put a hit out on them."

The account, which included witness statements from one man who said he was shot at for testifying in a homicide case, now appears to have been shut down. How the account got the info, some of which should have been secret, isn't clear, but followers were asked for paperwork on suspected "rats." Search warrants on the account have been granted. "People feel they can hide behind a name," says an officer. "These actions shoot an arrow through the heart of the criminal justice system, placing victims and witnesses at risk. It's a challenge we're facing and a challenge we're attempting to work through." (Read more witness intimidation stories.)

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