Two of the most popular websites on the internet are YouTube and Twitter, with millions and millions of daily users all around the world. But while both sites are popular for different reasons – YouTube with fans of video content and creatives looking to express themselves, and Twitter with people interested in keeping in touch with current events and their favorite brands and celebrities – both sites are being used by law enforcement to modernize the way they fight crime.
In one recent case in Philadelphia, a woman got onto a public bus and started battering a passenger. The suspect was arrested two days later, primarily due to the video surveillance footage the local police department posted on YouTube. The footage received over 117,000 hits, leading to the tip that helped the police find their suspect.
This was much more than an isolated incident. At least forty police departments all across the country currently use YouTube to get the word out about crime. And it’s working in some of the largest cities in America. On top of Philadelphia, the list includes Kansas City, Houston, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, Tucson and Minneapolis. Philadelphia may be showing the best success out of all of them. They launched their “Video Villains” program early in 2011, and have used it to help solve 85 cases. They post footage from unsolved incidents on YouTube, and then wait for tips in the comments section. It’s an incredibly transparent system, reliant on public service, but those in charge feel it’s having a real impact.
In Kansas City, the police department has posted more than 45 videos on their YouTube channel, and they feel it’s been very helpful in solving robberies in particular. More and more detectives are taking advantage, finding it a simple way to bring in public support. Posting these videos on YouTube also gives the media easy access, meaning the images get out far and wide, much quicker than they would have in the past. In Tuscon, Arizona, the police most famously used YouTube in a missing child case. A six-year-old girl named Isabel Celis went missing, and the department put up surveillance video, as well as the audio from the 911 phone calls that reported her missing back in April. In years past, they would have burned DVDs and CDs of the information and handed it out. But with YouTube, they can get all of it out instantly, to anyone across the world, and anyone with internet access can see it.
Twitter is another great resource for disseminating information. Instead of wasting precious man-hours responding to calls for information, police departments can put out all that they currently know on Twitter, and send people there for updates. Then they can focus on solving the case, which greatly enhances their chances of success. It also helps police departments tell their end of a story. If they run into issues with the press, instead of having to wait for a retraction or an additional story, they can post their own video, just as a video publisher with a YouTube converter would. That means the general public has the ability to make their own minds up, based on unedited footage, as opposed to having to interpret an article written with a certain spin.