The New Citizen Detectives?

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Despite what the figures would suggest, I don’t think there isn’t a single citizen of the United Kingdom who does not firmly believe that crime is on the increase in our country. It’s been a long held belief for as long as I can remember, and top of the thief’s agenda is high value personal devices such as the Apple iPhone and iPad.

But report the theft of your £500+ smartphone to the Police, and you’ll more than likely be met with a stone-faced civilian officer who files a crime report as slowly as possible and sends you on your way without the slightest intention to ‘investigate’ the crime at all. If this isn’t a genuinely held belief by the majority of us, please could someone put their hand up now…

Fortunately though, there have been some gigantic leaps forward in technology recently and virtually every new smartphone that comes out on to the market has built in GPS, front facing and rear facing HD cameras, internet access and e-mail capability. These features were put to interesting use during the tragic events of the 7th July 2005 in Britain, whereby general members of the public recorded the terrorist strikes that devastated our capital city using their mobile phone cameras and immediately became the first ‘Citizen Journalists’.

Victims of crime are now turning to the same technology though, and in much the same way are becoming the first in a new wave of what will become known as; ‘Citizen Detectives’.

Step in Katy McCaffrey, who herself earlier this year became turned ‘super sleuth’ in an effort to locate her stolen iPhone. Telegraph News Article:

Whilst on a cruise holiday, she had her iPhone stolen. Not the most violent of crimes, but certainly a distressing one given that most of us keep our irreplaceable family photo albums on our phones now. Fortunately for Katy though, she had enabled a feature on the iPhone called “PhotoStream”, which automatically uploads any photographs taken with your phone to the Apple iCloud servers. A short time later, the unsuspecting thief started using the phone to take photographs of himself and his pregnant girlfriend and without realising was unknowingly uploading his incriminating pictures to the victim’s iCloud server. The victim then turned detective and was able to identify the suspect as a worker on the cruise ship from the employee identity badge on his uniform and subsequently handed the information and his name over to the police and to the owners of the cruise ship who in turn investigated.

And today, Sky News are reporting; that a victim who had their iPhone stolen inside a nightclub in Brighton was able to activate a preinstalled App on their phone and secretly take photographs of the possible suspect using the front facing camera and e-mail the pictures to them self. The owner, now armed with photographs of the possible suspect and the iPhones GPS location then called Sussex Police and handed the information over to them.

And finally, another story this year involved David Landy who had his iPhone stolen outside a Tube station in London when he went to check his messages, only to activate the phones “Find my iPhone” GPS App and a short time later the assailant, Munya Chimutengwende, was located at a mobile phone store in Wood Green, having just sold the handset for £270. He was arrested shortly afterwards in a nearby branch of McDonald's and jailed for 18 months at Snaresbrook Crown Court.

These are just three examples of where criminal investigation is heading and it is probably fair to say that we will most likely see a deluge of stories similar to these coming up in the following months and years. Much in the same way the professional photographer is beginning to be overshadowed by ‘Citizen Journalists’ who are able to immediately capture pictures of celebrities in compromising situations, and report on terrorist strikes themselves directly through Social Media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, without the need to call a journalist first, I can envision a time when citizens themselves will avoid reporting crimes to the police and instead become part of the growing band of ‘Citizen Detectives”.

Written by Martyn Kemp
Kemp Investigations and Legal Services
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