When police officer Brian Johnson of Franklin, Ma., didn’t recognize men on a surveillance video showing two men using allegedly stolen credit cards at a store, he posted a clip on YouTube.com, then e-mailed about 300 people and organizations to say the department was looking for the suspects, says the Associated Press.
A handful of police departments have used YouTube as a law enforcement tool, putting up videos of suspects and eliciting help from the Internet-using public in identifying them. It’s too soon to tell how much promise the idea holds. “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 Canada, police in December posted a 72-second surveillance video to locate a suspect in a fatal stabbing outside a hip-hop concert. The video received around 35,000 hits, and police had enough information within two weeks for an arrest. Groups that monitor police behavior use YouTube site to post videos of arrests they believe involve excessive force or abuse. Now police are trying to reverse that dynamic by displaying surveillance footage of suspects.