Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Interpol turns to YouTube for help in investigations

AFP , JOHANNESBURG

The camerawork is not perfect and the footage a little grainy, but the Toronto policewoman looks straight into the camera and immediately asks for help.

She wants the public to help her catch a man wanted for a vicious sexual assault, which she details right down to his black puffy jacket, as a police sketch of his stocky unsmiling face appears onscreen.

It’s a move that marries hugely popular online social networking with old-fashioned police work: The footage is on the world’s biggest video sharing site YouTube, a few clicks away from Beyonce’s latest music video.

The aim is to tap into the massive community that cannot go a day without logging on to chat, share information and soak up online multimedia.

And the global police agency Interpol has taken note.

“It’s inevitable,” said Dimitrios Souxes, a criminal intelligence officer based at the agency’s Lyon headquarters, about the shift to new media.

“They are very successful and that is why we feel the need to go forward. No matter what, we have to follow developments otherwise we will be overcome and we will be outdated,” he said.

Interpol has already nabbed two prolific pedophiles after unprecedented public appeals netted hundreds of tipoffs and has video clips of Rwandan war criminals on Facebook, Myspace and YouTube — sites it regularly monitors.

But at a recent conference on tracking fugitives in South Africa, Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble said the agency needed to find more ways to harness the Internet.

“People use the Internet routinely to find former classmates or individuals with similar interests. There is no reason why law enforcement should not avail itself of this same resource,” he told delegates.

Web sites could be used to report sightings and track fugitive movements, to compare photographs of wanted persons, and upload videos, he said.

“One of the recommendations of this very conference is going to be the extensive use of the public and social networks,” Souxes said, “because we have realized that some people are posting video clips or photographs related to criminals.”

The unavoidable risk of criminals getting a heads up on the shared public information is outweighed by the potential benefits, he said.

“There is a risk, you can’t avoid it,” Souxes said. “But nevertheless, can you imagine how many thousands of people are logging every half an hour on the Internet?”

Constable Scott Mills of the Toronto Police Service, whose Crime Stoppers YouTube videos are even broadcast on the city’s subway stations, is an old hand at navigating new media.

“Our Web site trafficked in five years, approximately 439,000 unique page hits. In one video of a wanted Hells Angels gang member, there are over 400,000 views,” he said.

One case that stands out is that of a 17-year-old who was beaten, stripped naked and murdered in a gruesome attack believed to have been watched by more than 100 people. A nine month investigation proved fruitless. Then the police turned to YouTube.

“A short while later we solved the case,” said Mills.

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