Enforcement agencies calling on the public for help in solving crimes has taken a new form thanks to the advent of social media and internet enabled technology. Twitter and Facebook are often used to call on public assistance, and there are even Apps for smartphone users to report crimes or respond to any calls for witnesses, information etc.
Fighting Car Theft in Seattle
In the US, the Seattle Police Department already have their own Twitter account with over 7,000 plus followers keeping track of the goings on in their city as well as tweeting vital information to help police in their investigations. They have now established a new initiative to tackle car crime, called Get Your Car Back. All reports of stolen cars are posted to this designation, including full details of the vehicle’s registration, colour, make and model. Followers who receive the tweet alerts call 911 when they recognise a stolen vehicle. Although it is too early to tell just how effective the move is proving to be, Seattle PD’s goal is to reduce the number of thefts between 10 and 20 percent.
Neighbourhood Watch – Online
Many platforms use crowdsourcing to receive information from the public to help police map criminal activity in the area. The most useful tool is the smartphone with its ability to upload photographs, video and audio recordings, with GPS locators providing accurate location details. Sites such as Postacrime.com, Spotcrime.com, and CrimeReports all rely on tips from the publicfor information on all types of crimes committed, although Postacrime only focuses on instances of property loss and damage.
The information provided not only helps the police catch criminals but also allows for the sharing and analysing of data on crimes committed. All this is carried and shared in conjunction with thousands of law enforcement agencies. They also help form an online version of neighbourhood watch schemes.
Ushahidi Fights Crime in Kenya
Built on the often reported and reputable Ushahidi platform, the Hatari project enables citizens of Nairobi to submit and share reports on locations of criminal activity and corruption. Visitors to the site can openly, or anonymously share their own experiences as victims of crime, in addition to the reporting of incidents and also receive alerts to crimes committed in their area. All information is shared via text messaging, as well as web postings and messages via social media such as Twitter.
Finding a Killer with Facebook
Police in Bristol, England are using Facebook and the internet to track down the killer of 25 year old architect Joanna Yeates who went missing on Friday 17th December 2010. Joanna’s body was found on Christmas Day. The Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s website and Facebook page contain a map of Joanna’s movements prior to her disappearance, a video plea from her family as well as contact information and links to related news items. Regular visitors and users of Facebook are urged to “Like” the page and pass it on to their friends and family as well as sharing the link with Twitter followers.
These uses of crowdsourcing are more than just enabling the public to become amateur armchair detectives. They make available to enforcement agencies a wealth of information and encourage interaction with the public, towards the ultimate common goal of reducing the number of crimes committed.