How smart are phones in fighting crime?

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iol scitehc nov 28 blackberry store REUTERS

Johannesburg - The increasing use of smartphones by neighbourhood watch groups may lead to a reduction of crime, but it is also fraught with the dangers of hoaxes and privacy issues.

Some crime-combating groups have started their own BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) groups in a bid to keep residents informed about dangers in their areas. “It is an effective and quick method to dispatch patrollers to a scene,” said Derek Gouws, the secretary and patroller of the Alberton North Community Policing Forum.

“As people work in different areas, and not always having their radios available, BBMs are the answer,” he said in a BBM interview.

“Also in some instances you don’t want lots of people on scene after hearing calls on radio.”

In another technological way to fight crime, Apple products have a tracing function on the iCloud system once the Find My iPad/iPhone application has been installed on the device. Logging on from a remote computer, users can send a contact number to the device in case a good Samaritan happens to find it, but all other information will be locked.

Last June, Andrew Haynes and his family helped police catch a group of four armed men after they tracked their Apple devices on the iCloud system to Tembisa.

Dr Johan Burger, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said the BBM neighbourhood watches and the tracing function on Apple products should definitely reduce crime.

“The increasing use of developing technology could be used as an advantage by neighbourhood watches and all other kinds of security associations,

“There should be closer co-operation between non-policing forums and police for them to make the best use of this kind of technology,” said Burger.

However, there are dangers as messages can be incorrect - or hoaxes.

Police spokeswoman Warrant Officer Annabelle Middleton urged the public not to forward these messages to other people, but to rather contact the police with any information they might have.

She said if police verified that a BBM was a hoax, the origin of the message would be investigated by police.

In July last year a BBM message did the rounds which said hijackers had stolen a car with a baby still in the back.

Eventually it turned out that the car had not been stolen but was returned home by the baby's father, after the child had been left in the car while his mother was allegedly in a drug house.

At the time, Middleton said the messages had spread “like wildfire”.

Burger also warned that people should get expert legal advice before using BBM’s or Apple’s tracing function on behalf of others.

“The ordinary civilian who is part of a neighbourhood watch cannot do everything that the police or intelligence agencies would be allowed to do. Even they (intelligence agencies) need authorisation before they can apply certain technologies,” said Burger. - The Star

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