Smart Mobbing Helps the Good Guys - Maybe
By Eric Lin, Thu Feb 19 06:45:00 GMT 2004

After months of testing, Germany launched a new crime fighting system in 10 cities today. Civic-minded volunteers will receive an SMS after a crime has been committed, and they can respond if the suspect is spotted. It's great in theory, but the system didn't help the police at all during the tests.

When a crime occurs and suspects are on the run, anywhere from 50-100 volunteers in the area will be sent an sms with details. They can then be on the lookout, and reply if they notice anyone matching the suspect(s) description. Most of the volunteers are transit drivers or city employees that have close contact with the public in their day to day duties.

Deutsche Welle reports that Germany's Federal Office of Criminal Investigation, the bureau behind this new system, said it performed very well in test throughout last year and is excited about the country-wide launch. However not all of Germany is as impressed.

Police officials in some states and municipalities have doubts about the system's effectiveness, and are not participating in the program yet. In fact, they report that the program was not responsible for solving a single crime during the test periods. Germany's Social Democrat Party is more concerned with the state asking citizens to report on their neighbors. Considering the Nazi party (as well as McCarthy Era America and many other nations) used this approach to round up victims, it hits a little too close to home for them.

Though we're not disregarding the Social Democrats' concerns, it does seem that since this system asks people to respond to a specific crime and not just any "suspicious activity," that it will not become a tool for witch hunts. I'm curious to see how effective this program will be on a large scale. Even with more volunteers in more cities, these people are not trained like police officers. Can civilians pick up on whatever it is about criminals that the police use to identify suspects (other than any obvious physical characteristics)?