Area Police Weigh Value of YouTube as Tool

By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 2, 2008

It turned a Tennessee man and his plea for the meanies of the world to "Leave Britney Alone" into a worldwide sensation. The ode from "Obama Girl" to the Democratic presidential candidate earned her tens of millions of fans.

So why shouldn't it help the Arlington County Police Department catch criminals?

The department has turned to the online phenomenon YouTube in its quest to get the bad guys. Surveillance video from crime scenes is being posted on the popular video-sharing Web site in hope of generating leads and identifying suspects.

A two-minute video of a bespectacled robber talking to a teller at a Rosslyn BB&T bank branch got nearly 800 hits and probably resulted in a lead in the case, police said.

Not bad considering that the rather dull video is competing with such titillating fare as the latest Britney meltdown and Brangelina walking the kids.

"Everybody's using YouTube, so there's no reason police departments shouldn't use it too," said Arlington police spokesman John Lisle, whose office came up with the idea a couple of weeks ago.

"We don't know for sure that the lead is related to YouTube but we think it might be," Lisle said. "YouTube is just another way to reach more people, maybe even a brand-new audience."

Wendy Balazik, a spokeswoman for the Alexandria-based International Association of Chiefs of Police, said that she had not heard of others among the country's 18,000 law enforcement agencies using the site in fighting crime, but that it made sense.

"Some agencies are using text-messaging," she said, noting that Boston police, for example, allow people to leave anonymous tips that way. "It doesn't surprise me, though. It's the next logical step."

Balazik said the association favors any form of communication that "makes it easier for law enforcement to communicate with the public and vice versa."

Not everyone is convinced.

"We've never tried it and probably never will," said Officer Henry Tippett, a spokesman for the Prince George's County Police Department. "There's all kinds of crazy videos on there . . . people getting in fights, whatever."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company