Crowdsourcing Crime Into The Future

February 06, 2018

Crowdsourcing Crime Into The Future

by Ian D Scofield

For the most part policing is a job that should be left to police officers but a recent show that just ended titled Wisdom of The Crowd brought a new look at solving crimes.  A futuristic look that involves using an app to help get crowdsourced data to get clues to fight crime.  While the system (Sophe) doesn't really exist, there have been plenty of speculation and talk about similar systems.

This fictional system allows for the company to post a crime and both the company and the public can interact to gather new information, verify information, and source out detective work.  There are both good and bad aspects to this idea.  Either way, there is no current system that relies so much on the public to solve crimes.

Until that happens there are already types of crowdsourcing out there for crime fighting.  None of them are like Sophe but they are catching criminals and reducing crime overall.

Crime Fighting Forums

One of the oldest forms of crowdsourcing information for investigations is crime fighting forums.  There are several of these out there but there is a twist, these are run by civilians.  Most of these are dedicated towards cold cases or big cases such as serial murders. 

A few of these forums have been featured in TV specials.  Interested in taking a look at one?  Check out Web Sleuths, a crime fighting forum that has actually been responsible for providing helpful information to cases.

Spotcrime Crime Map and Crime Tips

Spotcrime is a website that allows users to submit crime tips to a user-facing app.  You can view the map and see what crimes have been committed in your area.  For example, when I Googled my address, I was able to find six different types of crime in my area.  I can also view the reporting source, such as the local police department, and depending on the agency, specifics of the crime.

Not only can you use an app like this to map trends in your jurisdiction but it helps to create transparency among citizens in your area.  When citizens can see crime trends, they become more confident in the police.  Building trust helps to encourage the public to submit reports of crimes when they might be scared to or otherwise, not report.

Seattle Police Department

Seattle Police Department was a forerunner in using the public to help solve crime.  The first implementation of this was to create a Twitter account that they post major incidents can crimes to.  During the business day this Twitter account is monitored for replies from the public.  Their Twitter has over half a million followers.

Another Twitter account from Seattle Police is dedicated to posting information about stolen cars.  They use this account to get the public to report sightings of these stolen vehicles.

Other Twitter accounts from Seattle Police are used to post all dispatch calls in a district.  This allows people to know if they might have witnessed a crime or if there is something that they should avoid.  As we mentioned above with Spotcrime it also helps to create transparency.

LAPD Crisis Crowdsourcing

The LAPD has a system known as LEEDIR that is used to manage digital information and tips on the cloud during a crisis or disaster.  Information can be sourced from the crowd and stored where investigators and administrators can utilize the data.

Both law enforcement individuals and the public can submit evidence and information through the LEEDIR app.  LAPD isn't the only agency using the app.  So far the system is new so there is a lack of users with the app.  However, individuals who have used the app when it was activated find it easy to use and navigate.


These are still fairly low key uses of crowdsourcing for crime fighting.  There are many other possibilities such as allowing users to interact with each other's information or allowing them to post unvetted information.  However, there are some considerations to take into mind before using crowdsourced evidence or other crowdsourced crime fighting.

Evidentiary Value

No matter where evidence comes from a defense attorney is going to try and get the evidence dismissed.  A lot of technicalities and legalities can get evidence thrown out.  When you crowdsource evidence you run the chance that a court won't accept the evidence.  One good example is there is no clear chain of custody for evidence that is brought through a random person.

You are also never sure about general information that is provided by the public.  Everything needs to be vetted and verified.

Large Amount Of False Reports

One view on crowdsourced data is that it can be verified by the crowd.  That way there is a good chance that the information will be accurate.  It reduces the number of fake or bad information that you get.  However, there is always the chance that there will be a lot of false reports when you crowdsource data.

We already see this when LEO agencies host tip lines or tip websites.

Another time that we have seen this is after the Boston Bombing.  When the Boston Bombing most of the country wanted to find the suspect.  A subreddit on Reddit came out dedicated to catching the Boston Bomber.  This subreddit had a lot of incorrect information pop up, including names and pictures of people who the Redditer's believed were suspects.

Because of the accusations of the Redditers maintaining the board, some of the innocent people had their lives ruined.  A small number even committed suicide.

Take a look at these crowdsourcing options.  They have both positives and negatives.  You can gather a lot of information that you might not have easily had access to in the past.  At the same time, you still have to filter out the data to make sure it is accurate.  What do you think of crowdsourcing data?  It doesn't necessarily put civilians working in the field but does make them crime fighters in a way.

Stay safe out there.


About The Author:

Ian is a staff writer at APTI and hospital security officer at a major medical center who has a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice with a Specialization in Administration of Justice.  He has held multiple positions in the security industry from patrol supervisor to auxiliary public safety officer.  At APTI he brings his writing skills to help further the careers of others and provide quality content.  Feel free to visit his freelancing site or his creative writing site.

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