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Back to Archives | Back to April 2011 Contents 

Law Enforcement’s Newest Weapon: Internet Scanning and Use of Social Media for In-Progress Crime

By Elle de Jonge, Chief Inspector, Dutch Police, County of Groningen, Netherlands; and Roy Mente, Chief Innovation Office, Royal Dutch Military Police, Netherlands



rime-fighting strategy, priority, and even quality vary from location to location, based on available personnel, funding, and other factors. These variations make collaboration between law enforcement agencies essential. One such project available in the Netherlands, called the Community Protection Network (Compronet), provides this necessary communication channel. Compronet, launched with a small-scale lab test in September 2010 and with a reevaluation for nationwide use scheduled at the end of 2012, is designed to help civilians, police, and incorporated technology such as sensors, data mining, open sources, and closed sources to cooperate by collecting and sharing information about a crime when it occurs. The project is closely related to the new Information Strategy of the Dutch police, 2010–2015.1

The past decade has seen the introduction of significant new technology for personal and professional use. Social media and smartphone technology are changing the way the world communicates and have become tools for law enforcement to do its job. In the county of Groningen, Netherlands, neighborhood police officers are using Twitter to communicate with community members.2 Also in the Netherlands, the service Burgernet, which uses telephone communication to inform participating civilians about an ongoing crime and enlist their help, has been launched. As a priority program in the country, Burgernet is expected to reach 150 municipalities and all police dispatch rooms with communication channels to around 1 million people by the end of 2011.3

Today’s Internet users have been told time and again that their privacy online cannot be guaranteed. But many people do not seem to mind, given the amount of personal information individuals post on their social network profiles. This can be used to law enforcement’s advantage when tracking a crime; tools such as data mining, geoinformation systems, and Internet scanning devices that search for pertinent information can pinpoint cracks in the public’s safety. Law enforcement agencies must be abreast of the latest technology developments in order to harness them for the good of their communities.


The Purpose of Compronet

It is common knowledge that catching criminals in the act of committing a crime is the fastest and most cost-effective way to solve crimes. The main objective of Compronet is to harness the power of real-time data handling to address disruptions in society.

For Compronet to be successful, four criteria must be developed:

  1. Civilians must want to help solve crimes.
  2. Civilians must know how to report crimes and want to report crimes.
  3. Technological and community sensors must be in place (for example, data mining, a geoinformation system, or an Internet scanning device).
  4. Procedures for law enforcement officers must be altered to support this new method of crime solving.

The central architecture of Compronet is based on a complex event processing (CEP) engine, which can communicate with applications already in service from known smartphone platforms including the iPhone, the BlackBerry, and the Android. Well-known current initiatives such as Burgernet, SMS (short message service) Alert, and mobile Amber Alert must be easily connected.


How Compronet Works

The CEP engine acts as the project’s core component, scanning continuously and autonomously a variety of information-rich Internet sources such as Twitter, Facebook, government pages, police records, and technological sensors such as automatic license plate recognition, shotgun detection, closed-circuit television anomalies, fire alarms, and burglar alarms. The CEP engine also has the built-in ability to dispatch first responders.

Consider this generic example: In the public space, there is an incident recorded, based on reports and alerts from technological sources or from sources within the community. This incident will be put into the CEP engine and will be enriched with information about geographic position from public information (open-source documents) and police information (closed-source documents).

This information is analyzed in real time and results in a series of predetermined actions, which are specific to the involved police agency. One action might be a simultaneous response from police units and trusted civilian partners. The civilian participants might be asked to confirm the incident by sending photos, license plate numbers, and descriptive information. The enriched information can then be sent to participants or others in close proximity to the incident. The actions and information creates a growing situational awareness for all involved.

The four areas of input, according to the system model Compronet
Examples of Technological SensorsExamples of Community Sensors, Aware and UnawareExamples of Open-Source Public InformationExamples of Closed-Source Police Information
  • Personal video streaming
  • Public video streaming
  • Automatic license plate recognition
  • Behavioral video
  • Facial recognition
  • Biometrics recognition
  • Aggression detection
  • Shotgun detection
  • Gas sniffers
  • Telephone anomalies
  • Sound detection
  • GPS
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Flikr
  • YouTube
  • Google
  • Hyves
  • Marktplaats
  • Foto GSM
  • Amber Alerts
  • Civilian networks
  • Qik
  • 1-1-2 (European)
  • 9-1-1 (American)
  • Municipal records
  • School records
  • Hospital records
  • Companies
  • Bank records
  • Telephone company records
  • Driver’s license records
  • License plate records
  • Crime records
  • Court records
  • Jail records
  • Police incident records
  • Interpol records
  • Europol records

Risks and Rewards

Because the success of Compronet hinges on transparency between the police and civilians, there is inherent risk. For example, how does one mitigate the risk of including criminals and potential criminals in an open system? What about privacy considerations? What about ethical considerations? These are valid questions that must be addressed during field tests.

Because of the risks involved, Compronet will be rolled out on a small scale and on relatively simple subjects. One test of the project proved that it is already possible to process technological alerts from an automated license plate recognition camera to dispatch police units without involving a dispatch room. Field tests will be conducted in all participating counties during 2011.

Individuals interested in the project should visit www.compronet.eu or e-mail the project managers: Elle de Jonge at elle.de.jonge@groningen.politie.nl; or Roy Mente at r.mente@mindef.nl. ■

Notes:

1A portion of information about this project is publically available at http://www.criminaliteitswijzer.nl/wiki/index.php/Sitemap_Informatiestrategie_Politie_Nederland (accessed March 24, 2011).
2“Groningse Politie Neemt Proef Met Twitterende Buurtagenten en Persvoorlichters,” Groninger Internet Courant, Wednesday, December 30, 2009, http://www.gic.nl/nieuws/groningse-politie-neemt-proef-met-twitterende-buurtagenten-en-persvoorlichters (accessed January 18, 2011).
3For more information, visit http://www.smvp.nl/burgernet2.php (accessed March 24, 2011).


Please cite as:

Elle de Jonge and Roy Mente, "PLaw Enforcement’s Newest Weapon: Internet Scanning and Use of Social Media for In-Progress Crime," The Police Chief 78 (April 2011): 28–29.


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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 3, April 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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