« IBasis expands service to Ukraine |
| ChartOne partners with Access »
Monday, February 26, 2007
"You've got to ask yourself, 'What's the penetration? How many people are going to watch it? What would make people watch it?" asked Eugene O'Donnell, a former police officer and prosecutor who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
Perhaps the most-publicized example was in Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada, where police in December posted a 72-second surveillance video to locate a suspect in a fatal stabbing outside a hip-hop concert. Det. Sgt. Jorge Lasso sent messages on Web sites frequented by hip-hop fans alerting them to the clip. He said the video received around 35,000 "hits," and police had enough information within two weeks for an arrest.
Police in Aventura, Fla., working on an open homicide case from 2001 posted video from a store security camera showing the victim chatting with a younger man considered a person of interest in the case. Sgt. Michael Bentolila narrates the video, pointing out a tattoo or birthmark on the man's arm and telling viewers to note how the man walks.
Bentolila said he had not yet received any solid leads.
"This is just something else -- an extra added feature that we can now use to get our message out there on a countrywide or worldwide basis," he said.
More often, it's police who find themselves the subject of YouTube posts.
Groups that monitor police behavior use the site to post videos of arrests they believe involve excessive force or abuse. A clip of a Los Angeles officer repeatedly punching a suspect in the face surfaced on the site last year, triggering an FBI investigation.
But police are reversing that dynamic by displaying surveillance footage of suspects.
Experts say it's logical for departments to connect with the public via the web, especially younger Internet users more likely to visit YouTube and more likely, say, to have information about a stabbing outside a hip-hop concert than their parents.
"I kind of applaud the fact that police are using the latest tools," said Michael Brady, a retired police chief who teaches criminal law and criminal procedure at Salve Regina University in Newport. "We tend to get stuck in technology deficits. We tend to want to stick with the old tried-and-true."
O'Donnell, the John Jay professor, said he liked that police were mining the public for information and said interest in real-life crime video speaks to the "natural inclination of people to want to play detective." But he worried that a department with limited resources could waste time responding to useless leads -- or receive tips that are inconsistent.
A key question, he said, is "at what point do people just say 'another boring video"' and shut it off.
Robert Ellis Smith, a Providence-based privacy expert and publisher of the "Privacy Journal" newsletter, said video posted online should have the consent of bystanders or victims in order to protect their privacy. He also suggested the videos be dated and removed once any court proceedings are concluded.
"Victims of crimes are certainly entitled to be heard before that stuff is put on the Internet," Smith said.
Bentolila noted that in narrating the video, he specifically pointed out the suspect and focused viewers' attention strictly on him.
"We're not asking anybody to say they are guilty or innoncent," said Johnson, the Franklin officer. "The purpose of putting the video out is to identify them."
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said, legally, police would have freedom to post surveillance video online unless they were falsely accusing or defaming someone.
The departments that have successfully used YouTube acknowledge it's not a substitute for old-fashioned police work. And when arrests have been made, it's not always clear YouTube can claim credit.
"I can't tell you that YouTube is what gave us the break because there was so much media attention to it that it really clouded the issue," said Lasso, the Hamilton detective.
In the Franklin case, Johnson attributed the arrests to good police work rather than YouTube.
He posted the video in December after a man reported his truck had been broken into and his credit cards stolen.
The clip generated chatter from nearby police departments already investigating similar cases, and an officer in another town viewed the video and said he knew who they were, Johnson said.
But it wasn't until police in Middleborough, Mass., responded to a disturbance at a Holiday Inn that the suspects were arrested. Lt. David Mackiewicz, who was involved in the arrest, said he didn't recognize the men through YouTube and didn't even know their pictures were on the site.
"Technology," Johnson said, "will never replace the feet-on-the-street." (AP)
Posted by Boston Globe Business Team at 08:45 AM