A Smartphone app which lets Londoners enter a postcode before bringing up CCTV images of people wanted for questioning by police has just been launched. Hopefully, anyone using the app will realise that pictured individuals are innocent of any crime unless and until proven guilty. The free app has heavy police backing, and was released by a newly-created non-profit, funded by sponsors such as the CPP, BlackBerry and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.
Sky News reports: Londoners are being urged to use their smartphones to identify suspected criminals, including almost 3,000 people involved in last year’s London riots.
The Facewatch app lets Londoners enter a postcode before bringing up CCTV images of people wanted for questioning by police. It can be further refined by limiting the geographical parameters of the search.
If the user recognises a suspect the police can be directly notified of the suspect’s name and address with a simple tap of the screen. Information is sent in confidence, using Apple, Android and Blackberry or any computer with an internet connection.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, head of Specialist Crime and Operations, said: “My hope is that the two-thirds of Londoners who own smartphones will download this app, and help us identify those suspects we still need to speak to.
“We need Londoners to browse through the app every week or so as new images will appear regularly.”
The app is the brainchild of London wine-bar owner Simon Gordon and is an extension of the original Facewatch technology he designed for small business owners to upload CCTV images of a crime on their premised to a central police database. This saved time for the victims and freed up valuable resources for police officers to concentrate on investigating the crime.
The police and Facewatch’s developers claim trials using the app have proved to be successful but hope the publicity surrounding the app will boost crime fighting in the capital.
Operation Withern, tasked with identifying those involved in the London riots, left police with more than 177,000 hours of CCTV footage to analyse. Most of it has been completed but 2,880 images were left. These have been added to the Facewatch site.
The app will also target low-level crimes such as shoplifting or anti-social behaviour and a further 2,000 images – not related to the 2011 disorder – were uploaded on Tuesday.
The technology is free for the police and business users, with package deals for group websites on offer.
“Everyone has concerns about a possible infringement of civil liberties but most people also wants to see criminals caught. We talked to these groups and they did not have any concerns that those rights were breached by this Facewatch app,” he said.
Assistant Commissioner Rowley added: “The police have always used images in public appeals. So there’s no change there. This is using technology to bring those appeals to a much bigger audience.”
He also dismissed fears of abuse by people making false claims. “We’d be able to spot pranksters quite quickly. I don’t think that’s a real problem,” he said. For now, 10 million Londoners are expected to accept his opinion on that.