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 Singapore Police Force using Facebook to find suspects

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Join date : 2009-10-04
Age : 31

PostSubject: Singapore Police Force using Facebook to find suspects   Tue Nov 03, 2009 11:56 am

Singapore Police Force using Facebook to find suspects

Booked through Facebook?

By Liew Hanqing

THE Singapore Police Force (SPF) is on Facebook, and it needs help getting connected.
Not to new friends, but to suspects in criminal cases.

In a photo album on the SPF's official Facebook page are 37 photos of individuals the police are looking for to assist in investigations.

Each picture in the album is accompanied by a caption, describing the cases which the subjects are linked to.

Those pictured in the album include individuals linked to cases of loanshark harassment, theft and outrage of modesty.

Netizens are urged to call the police hotline if they have any information on the individuals pictured in the album, titled "Police Appeal: Do you know these people?".

Currently, the SPF Facebook page has more than 8,400 "fans".

Facebook members can become "fans" of various organisations - including SPF - at a click of the mouse, and will receive updates whenever new information is added to the page.

They are also able to share the link to the album containing the suspects' pictures with others on their contact lists.

Mr Fong Weng Kiong, assistant director, information, of the SPF's public affairs department, said the police started using Facebook as part of its law enforcement efforts in April.

He said SPF decided to set up its Facebook page because an increasing number of law enforcement agencies, including Interpol, are using social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook to appeal for information on crime suspects.

He said: "(The Facebook page) was also intended to be a platform whereby crime prevention advice can be disseminated."

Though no suspects have been nabbed via Facebook yet, Mr Fong said responses from netizens have been encouraging.

Effective crime-busting tool

Dr Raymond Choo, a researcher with the Australian Institute of Criminology, said new media channels, such as the SPF's Facebook page, can be effective community policing platforms.

Said Dr Choo, a former police officer who was with the SPF for five years: "The community can learn about when and how a crime is committed, and how they can help."

He stressed the need for law enforcement agencies to reassess policing techniques to keep pace with society.

Governments worldwide, he said, are already recognising the importance of engaging the online community in fighting crime.

An example, he said, was the recent appointment of Andrew Stott as the UK cabinet's first Director of Digital Engagement, a position created to encourage communication with netizens through digital technology.

He also cited the example of the launch of a one-stop website, set up by the Australian government, to provide information and support for victims of sexual assault.

"Information and communications technologies (ICT) can play both strategic and operational functions in facilitating effective community policing," Dr Choo said.

For example, police officers can respond swiftly to comments, feedback or tip-offs from people to help track down wanted criminals or missing individuals.

The use of social networks, he said, can also be useful in helping the authorities maintain a good relationship with the public.

Said Dr Choo: "Operationally, ICT also enhances and supports problem-solving efforts, by providing ready access to information via information sharing and dissemination on social networking sites."

But there may be pitfalls.

Sites like Facebook, Dr Choo said, can also be abused by organised crime groups and foreign intelligence services.

For example, street gangs in Australia have reportedly used social networks to promote themselves, and to prey on impressionable young people.

Israel's internal intelligence service has also recently urged the public to exercise caution when using Facebook, claiming their enemies were trying to recruit spies through the site.

The use of Facebook by law enforcers may also present some privacy-related problems, said senior software engineer Tim Goh, 29.

He said: "Suspects could also create fake Facebook profiles and offer false information.

"Valid users may provide information in a non-confidential manner - such as commenting publicly - thus tipping off suspects."

How police have used Facebook

Vandals caught

In February, police in the US solved a vandalism case just three weeks after setting up a Facebook page showing pictures captured from surveillance cameras.

The police received information from netizens who had viewed the pictures on Facebook. This led them to three culprits, who were charged with burglary and criminal mischief.

Burglar caught

In January, police in southern New Zealand made their first "Facebook arrest", by nabbing a would-be burglar after they posted security camera images of the man on Facebook.

The man was pictured trying to break into a safe, but had been unsuccessful in his attempt to open it.

Netizens, who had viewed the pictures on Facebook, gave the police information which led to the man's arrest, just two months after the Queenstown police department created its online presence on Facebook.

Tips from Facebook

Last year, the Manchester police department created a Facebook application to collect leads for its investigations, marking the first time UK law enforcers have used the site to fight crime.

The application sends users a real-time feed of police news and appeals for information.

One update, for example, was an appeal for information about four men who were allegedly involved in an armed robbery.

By clicking on a "Submit Intelligence" link on the Facebook application, users are directed to the website of the Manchester police where they can submit information anonymously.

Charged for assault

In October last year, with the help of Facebook and YouTube, a Canadian undergraduate was charged with aggravated assault, after Kingston police posted video clips and an online appeal for information about the case on the networking site.

Netizens who had viewed the information on the Facebook page tipped the police off, which led to the arrest.


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