Police forces across the UK – including in Birmingham, Manchester and London – are shifting their riot investigation tactics, posting large numbers of images of suspected rioters online.
West Midlands Police and Greater Manchester Police are leading the way outside of the capital after London’s Metropolitan Police began posting photos of riot suspects on Flickr. Serious riots initially broke out across London at the weekend, and then spread to Manchester, Salford, Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham and Bristol.
As prime minister David Cameron vowed to clamp down on the trouble makers, police forces told ComputerworldUK.com they were determined to make better use of technology – in order to interact directly with large numbers of members of the public.
The forces are calling for people to identify the rioters and call them, as well as inviting them to send in their own photos.
“Our website normally gets around 500,000 unique visitors a month but we’ve had well over 300,000 hits in the first 11 days of August alone, as we put the suspects’ photos live,” said a spokesperson at West Midlands Police, which is investigating Tuesday’s riots in Birmingham.
Around 15 percent of the site’s traffic comes from mobile devices, and this number spikes when people want quick information following incidents, according to the force.
West Midlands Police has uploaded 32 pictures from CCTV images, and plans to upload more each day. “We couldn’t investigate in the way we’re doing it without this technology,” said the force’s spokesperson. “It’s vital for interacting with people.”
The force is also closely monitoring Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger for potential disruption, and is using social networking sites to update local residents on its work.
Greater Manchester Police, meanwhile, has placed a form on the front of its website in order to enable people to directly upload rioter photos, videos and audio evidence. These pictures are moderated, and the ones that could aid identification are uploaded.
A spokesperson at the force, which is addressing widespread rioting in Manchester city centre on Tuesday, said the force had already uploaded 18 suspect photos to its Flickr stream and was adding the “clearest” and “most useful” photos each day from CCTV and users’ cameras.
Avon and Somerset Constabulary, which is investigating trouble in Bristol, has uploaded photos and videos to its site. It also has a dedicated Facebook page.
Merseyside Police, which is investigating riots in Liverpool on the same night, has begun uploading photos, though only has a few at the moment. A spokesperson said the force will add images each day.
London’s Metropolitan Police, which was initially criticised for being slow to react to rioters’ planning on BlackBerry Messenger, is investigating those messages and is beginning to make more extensive use of its established Flickr stream to show suspect images. The first force to do so, it has had over 387,000 people examining the photos.
Story Photo: Alan Stanton