YouTube as police tool

Patrolman Brian Johnson of the Franklin, Mass., Police Department studied a surveillance video showing two men using allegedly stolen credit cards at a Home Depot.

But when Johnson didn’t recognize either man, he decided to involve people — a lot of them — to help crack the case.

He posted a clip from a security camera on, Google Inc.’s video-sharing website, then e-mailed the clip’s link to about 300 people and organizations, saying the department was looking for the men.

YouTube as police tool 1

“You don’t have to be a technology wizard to figure out how to watch a video on YouTube,” Johnson said of the decision to post on the site, which hosts millions of amateur and commercial videos.

A few police departments have used YouTube as a law enforcement tool, putting up video of suspects and soliciting help from the Internet-using public in identifying them.

Experts say the idea has promise, but it’s too soon to tell whether it will have staying power amid constantly evolving technologies and the difficulty of making a video stand out among millions. Some also see a risk of fruitless tips, misidentifications or privacy problems.

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