Crowdsourcing Law Enforcement

from the first-10-callers-to-identify-this-fugitive... dept

In a move that seems calculated to evoke the film adaptation of 1984, the FBI has announced a plan to begin using some 150 Clear Channel digital billboards in major American cities to show national security alerts, information about recent crimes, and photographs of fugitive criminals and missing persons, all with real-time updates.

A pilot billboard in Philadelphia has already helped to capture several wanted criminals, and a spokesman for the outdoor advertising industry suggests that these kinds of publicity tactics can be as useful at demoralizing criminals as they are at generating tips:

"What law enforcement tells us is it contributes to an environment where the criminal feels they have no where to go. A lot of times they end up just giving up."

In a way, the surprising thing is that law enforcement officials hadn't previously taken such visible steps to make use of the distributed eyes and ears of ordinary citizens. The problem, of course, is that publicity can also generate lots of time-consuming false leads. An advertisement currently ubiquitous on New York subways applauds the thousands of New Yorkers who phoned in reports of suspicious packages in the past year. But since we haven't heard reports of thousands of bombs recovered on the A train, it seems safe to surmise that the noise-to-signal ratio on such tips is quite high. As for national security alerts, our experience with color-coded national security warnings, and the attendant spectacle of panicked citizens mobbing Home Depot for plastic sheeting and duct tape, suggest that the Bureau might be well advised to exercise a bit of circumspection about those real-time updates.

Filed Under: billboards, criminals, crowdsourcing, fbi


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  1. identicon
    dualboot, 30 Dec 2007 @ 10:23am

    america's most wanted...

    The TV show works on this premise, and sometimes leads come in leading to their arrest. I think that if they make it a reward system for the "safe" apprehension of the criminal or a tip leading to their capture it would be a way to speed-up the process, and citizens would fed less helpless since they would be able to DO something. i.e. know who the heck to call. The police can deal with the criminals, but I think it's a great idea to get more civilians involved. I would subscribe to the text or picture mail... The Nationalists for Lost Children (or some other similarly-named agency) has already been using fax and email pictures lo locate missing children successfully for years... I think this is just the next logical progression... if the law enforcers run out of leads, this can help them generate more leads.

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