Policing by Internet

By Nilson, Chad; Burke, Tod W. | Law & Order, August 2002 | Go to article overview

Policing by Internet


Nilson, Chad, Burke, Tod W., Law & Order


Imagine a business or homeowner suddenly receiving a report of a crime within seconds of the occurrence. Minutes later they could respond to the police and confirm the whereabouts of a suspect at large. Envision a police agency or community, developing list serves or chat-rooms for community members to discuss issues of crime at their convenience. Consider informants, once too fearful to communicate with the police, now continuously providing information to the police. These are just a few advances in policing the Internet can provide when used as a communication device in community policing.

For many years the policing profession has experienced a continuous challenge for innovation, development and adaptability. Much like when Sir Robert Peel had to find an effective way to serve the city of London, modern police chiefs and their agencies also must continually strive to be of better service to the communities they serve.

Community policing became a successful service device that benefited both the police agency and the members of the community. As communities change and are introduced to newer concepts, ideas and technological advancements, there must also be an introduction of equally effective tools used in community policing. One tool, discovered and used to the advantage of both the agency and its community, is the Internet. Policing by the Internet creates unlimited communication between the community and its police agency.

Basic communication processing requires three key elements: the sender, message and receiver. While communicating on the web, the police and the community alternate between serving as the sender and the receiver, depending on one of two circumstances: when the community is the sender and when the police are the senders.

Community as the Sender

In no particular order of importance, the first circumstance of communication between the police and the public occurs when the public reports criminal activity online. The majority of times when the public is the sender and the police act as the receiver, the public has logged onto its local police agency homepage. On that homepage is an online self-report form that is completed by the citizen. Several police agencies have made this type of service available to their citizens. One of these agencies is the Madison, WI, Police Department.

In 1995, the Madison Police Department designed a Web site service that allowed the residents of Madison to selfreport crime online. Currently citizens can fill out an online self-report form giving the detail of the crime, their name, email address, postal address and telephone number. In return, the police department mails an official crime report form to the citizen that they can complete and return to the police department.

Lieutenant Joe Balas of the Madison Police Department said, "Part of our mission is to record crime and enhance the quality of life for the residents of Madison. The Internet is simply a tool we can use to make our services both more effective and efficient."

It is estimated that 15% of all reports of crime that the Madison Police Department receives come from this selfreporting system. This service has not only allowed citizens to report crime from the comfort of their own home or office, but has also lightened the load officers carry, allowing them to concentrate their efforts on emergency situations. Every call a police department receives from a citizen is important, however this service is mainly used for non-emergencies and less severe reports of crime.

An online service quite similar to the Madison self-report form is a query offered to Internet users by the Chicago Police Department. This form is used to help the Chicago Police Department fight drug trafficking in various neighborhoods in Chicago. This query asks for the offender's name, possible nickname, address, age, sex, race, height, weight and description of the suspect's automobile, if known.

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