[This post originally appeared on Techdirt.]
Last week, the Toronto Police Homicide Squad launched a new website containing profiles of unsolved murder cases and wanted persons. Each profile contains details of the investigation — a written synopsis, photos and links to Google maps or even YouTube videos — and allows visitors to submit tips directly to the police. It serves not only as an appeal for information, but also as a resource for grieving families. Some of the “cold cases” date back decades, and the police are hoping that increased attention on the web (or even from the press on the website launch) might lead to a break in an investigation.
Police have long since used online tools to search for evidence themselves, but we’re starting to see them engaging online communities and developing tools and methods to appeal to the public for information through the web. A few years back, a cop from a neighboring city received a lot of press for uploading a surveillance video to YouTube, and now Toronto’s Crime Stoppers service has its own YouTube channel and Facebook page. Though, in the surveillance video case, the media coverage of the YouTube angle seemed to help a lot more than the actual video (and comments on some of the Crime Stoppers videos make you wish the comment audio preview was mandatory.) The Toronto police have found a lot of success in solving and preventing crime using these tools, and they recently presented their methods to an Interpol audience.
It’s great to see law enforcement embracing the web as a means of two-way communication with the public, though it may take some time before these latest efforts pay off. The new site looks like it could use some more design work, and previous success has involved engaging a largely younger audience on social networks, rather than trying to draw witnesses to a separate site. As long as they continue to experiment, police are bound to find the right methods to make these tools useful.
[Read the comments on Techdirt.]