The increasing use of social media in the country is leading to a rise in crime detection through social networks. While social media has often been blamed for the rise in crimes, the medium is now serving as a full-fledged tool in tracking criminals and law breakers. Given the number of Indians on social media, a November 2013 CBI report on ‘Social Media and Law Enforcement’ has emphasized on the importance of leveraging social media platforms to maintain law and order.
In the report, CBI recommended round the clock monitoring mechanisms at the federal and state level, bringing out a policy for using social media for outreach, developing protocols for use of social networks for collection of information and intelligence from public and building capacities to “patrol and monitor” social media.
Police in most states of India, including the traffic police are leveraging the reach of social networks, and working together with the citizens to help solve cases faster. Along with the popular network, Facebook, police are also digging into Twitter, blogs and now WhatsApp, the most popular messaging app in the country with 40 million active Indian users, to find innovative ways in crime detection.
In a recent missing person case in Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh involving a boy aged 11, the police used WhatsApp to share the missing boy’s photo, in addition to posting his pictures at railway stations, bus stands and local parks.
The boy’s photo and mobile phone numbers of his family and the police were sent to WhatsApp users across Bareilly city via different service providers. A passenger travelling in the Doon Express quickly identified the boy in the train, with the help of the WhatsApp message.
Lately the Central Railway (CR) in Mumbai has begun to use Whatsapp to catch offenders like bag-lifters, pickpockets, molesters and rooftop travellers, by WhatsApping their photos to ticket-checkers, railway protection force (RPF) and government railway police personnel.
While the perpetrators are sure to log onto Facebook and leave their footprints sometime, this social behaviour has also helped track them. A kidnapper was caught by tracing the IP address of the computer he was using, as he logged on to Facebook after the crime.
A Rs. 60 lakh bank robbery case was solved after the police uploaded photos of the two criminals on Facebook, with a reward offer of Rs. 3.5 lakhs.
City traffic police are also actively using social media to manage traffic. Back in 2012, the Delhi Traffic Police informed that it has booked 22,000 traffic offenders through its Facebook page in the two years it has been on Facebook by encouraging citizens to upload pictures of offenders and other traffic violations.
What started as an experiment on Facebook in 2010, had worked to inspire many other traffic police in the country. Now most traffic police have a Facebook page that works along with the offline patrol. In March 2013, Bangalore city police caught an eve teaser though a Facebook tip off.
Police personnel are getting a step ahead of the criminals for investigating crimes. Following the death of the North-east student Nido Tania, police used social media to keep tabs on how and where protests would be held.
They are also being trained to use the medium effectively. District and state-level cyber crime cells are being educated on how to use social media, while police training colleges too have programmes to train recruits on how to use Facebook and Twitter for crime detection. Additionally, there are compulsory courses for station house officers (SHOs) and assistant commissioners of police (ACPs) too, as stated by Joint commissioner (training), Robin Hibu.
In March 2013, the Mumbai police set up India’s first “social media lab” in association with Reliance Foundation and NASSCOM. A specially-trained team of 20 police officers working in shifts monitor social networking sites to pull out content that could be troublesome and inform the Mumbai cyber cell.
In the same year in September, Delhi Police also began to look for vendors for developing a social media monitoring system.
The Rs 2,000 crore Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS) launched in 2009, with the plan of linking the nation’s 14,000 police stations and 6,000 supervisory offices, is being rolled out to provide cops with the tools, technology and information to facilitate criminal investigations. The ambitious plans confirm that social media usage in crime detection is here to stay, and will only grow in the digital age.