Crime-solving in America
Today, in America, 1 out of every 3 murder culprits are not identified . Despite advances in DNA testing and other technological improvements, that national statistic has not improved in over a decade. Some attribute it to a growing distrust between the police and public, which makes witnesses reluctant to identify suspects. Others argue that police agencies have quite successfully focused on preventing future crimes rather than dedicate resources to solving existing ones. And those resources can be costly. By one estimate, criminal investigations cost America 2% of our GDP . However you look at it, solving crimes is labor intensive, costly, and we’re not exactly getting better despite technological advances. This seems ripe for a crowdsourced disruption…
So no crowd-based crime-solving models exist?
Crowdsourced crime-solving is not exactly a new idea. Intelligence groups have always used tip hotlines in order to get crowdsourced help about crimes, possible suspects, or evidence. For example, in 2007 the Boston Police Department launched a Text-A-Tip hotline. In April 2013, the month of the Boston bombing, the hotline received 333 texts . And those 333 texted tips paled in comparison to the activity happening on Reddit, a crowdsourced online content aggregator. In the days after the Boston Bombing over 870 subscribers and 1,600 visitors contributed to, voted on, and analyzed information published on the Findbostonbombers subreddit . They created mass photo dumps, analyzed photos and videos, conducted amateur forensics, and identified suspects. The Reddit content was also laced with racial and religious bias, incorrect information paraded as facts, and, tragically, horrendous witch-hunts of innocent bystanders . The real culprits were never successfully identified by the subreddit. But just one month earlier, in March 2013, crowdsourced commenters on Gawker, another online blog, had successfully identified and help capture an assault culprit in NYC .
So there could be an opportunity here?
The enthusiasm of Reddit users, community based crime solving groups, and amateur crime solving in general show that there is a strong interest from the general population to participate in crime-solving – even when they’re not getting paid to do it. I’d like to propose a crowd-based business model based on a software platform connects users with police agencies looking for photographic or video evidence. This platform would create value through aggregating, sorting, and stitching such content together. It would organize the stitched content together by location, angle, time of day, perspective, And it would capture value through providing evidence to authorized crime solving groups and private investigators for a fee. As an additional incentive to upload content, authorized crime solving groups can offer a bounty payout to users for evidence that is successfully used. As an additional revenue stream, crime solving groups can upload their own proprietary content and attempt to stitch it with user generated content. This service would augment traditional crime solving methods rather than replace it.
How is this different than the Findbostonbombers subreddit?
The purpose of such subreddits have historically been, as the name suggests, to find culprits and solve crimes. This platform seeks to simply gather information from content captured by private citizens via phones, web-enabled security cameras, drone footage, ambient listening apps etc. It does not allow users to view each others content, discuss potential evidence, or come to community based conclusions. Preventing such discussions is key to preventing the bias and witch-hunting that occurred in the Boston Bombing case. The platform would only accept evidence for which it can be reasonably confident the content was not altered. And it would maintain the anonymity of users submitting content, unless the user would like to be contacted.
Is all of this technologically feasible?
Recent advances in data processing, computer vision, and image rendering have made this kind of undertaking more feasible and cost effective. Other technologies that speak to the feasibility include:
Fourandsix – a software platform that identifies if a photo has been altered based on metadata
Empathic Media – a virtual reality company that uses traditional reported news and content to recreate crime scenes
Megamovie – a initiative by UC Berkeley and Google to crowdsource photos and videos of an upcoming solar eclipse to help scientists learn about the sun
Is any of this evidence legally admissible?
Sometimes. Today, photo and video evidence is legally admissible so long as it is both relevant and authenticated . In this business model, relevancy would be on the onus of the crime solving group. Authentication is currently achieved in a variety of ways, even by a witness who observed the content being depicted in the photo and video evidence.
Disclaimer: I am by no means a legal expert, professional crime solver, or expert in this subject matter. I am simply a curious Reddit reader interested in thinking how such technologies could be harnessed more effectively and maturely.