Facewatch is the latest online development in the law-enforcement v criminals high-tech arms race with cops and robbers adapting new digital techniques to outwit each other.
New technologies present new opportunities for law enforcement agencies to catch and prosecute criminals – from Smartphones that can report themselves stolen to the increasingly sophisticated police use of social media for gathering intelligence, investigating crimes and establishing evidence.
Facewatch is a privately operated “National low level crime reporting and image sharing system for businesses”.
It operates as a website and an app, Facewatch id, with versions available for Android, Apple and Blackberry phones.
How it works
Once a business registers with Facewatch, it can upload details of any crimes straight on to the website with details, witness statements and, critically, CCTV evidence and images of any suspects.
There are a number of key components to the scheme:
- Police have full access to all the crime report details.
- Businesses can share images of suspects with either other branches of their company or other local businesses which have joined the same Facewatch group.
- Members of the public can log on to the website or use the app to look at photos of local criminals and see if they recognise anyone.
- Businesses can provide a full package of evidence in a convenient way.
Does it work?
Facewatch is endorsed by the Association of Chief Probation Officers and has testimonials from the Met Police Commissioner, @ngargan_npia and others on its website. It currently works with the Met and Cheshire Police Forces with other forces showing interest.
The main test of its effectiveness will be whether members of the public use the site and app and identify local criminals who they then report to the police.
According to the @Facewatch twitter account, the early signs are promising:
The run rate for positive idents on Facewatch is close to 10 a day
— Facewatch (@Facewatch) April 22, 2012
My one area of concern is that it will be important that Facewatch does not duplicate the work of individual forces who are already routinely post similar photos and videos on their websites and Facebook pages.
It will be important to integrate Facewatch and Facewatch Id into local police sites where members of the public are more likely to be browsing.
When I looked at the Cheshire and Met Facebook pages there were still links to CCTV footage and stills on these, rather than a link to the Facewatch system.
Let’s hope that if Facewatch becomes the national system for sharing images of suspects, the two systems are integrated.