When Lisa Johnson of Alpharetta, Ga., saw a man exposing himself to her in a parking lot, she reached for her cell phone – not to call 911, but to snap a picture, the Associated Press reports.
The images captured on her camera phone led police to the capture of a former principal from a nearby high school. After his arrest on public indecency charges, he resigned.
Cell phones that can take pictures are becoming a more common way for victims and other witnesses to help police capture criminals. Because the phones are so portable and always on, it takes only a moment to photograph the face or license plate of someone in the act of a crime.
Camera phones are still a relatively new technology, but already police can point to cases where they have been an important tool.
In New Jersey last year, a 15-year-old boy foiled an abduction attempt when he took pictures of a man trying to lure him into a car. In Pittsburgh last month, several visiting St. John’s University basketball players were cleared of a rape accusation after one team member gave investigators his cell phone, which he had used to videotape some of the encounter.
In Japan, an 18-year-old woman took a photo of a 38-year-old man who was fondling her on a commuter train, and police arrested him at the next stop. In Sweden, a convenience store owner took a picture of a robber that was used to help identify and arrest the criminal.
“It’s an excellent improvement in technology. Everyone has them with them all the time,” said Capt. Robert Rowan of the Clifton, N.J., police department, which investigated the teen’s abduction attempt. “You have sort of a crime-fighting device on your person at all times.”
On the other hand, camera phones have gotten a bad rap because of reports they’ve been used in locker rooms and strip clubs to capture nude images that get posted on the Internet, said Alan Reiter, who runs the Web log cameraphonereport.com, which gathers information about wireless photography.