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Good practice - Document details


Project title:

Virtual Community Policing

Country of Origin:

Finland

Project description:

Sergeant Forss is part of an investigation group that is responsible for investigating crimes by under 18-year-olds. He found out that crimes through virtual world already started to influence crimes involving minors. There are investigations of offences such as insults and illegal threats which have taken place using internet. Sometimes these arguments start online, and then come out to the real world, on the streets.

Sexual crimes involving children under 18 are increasing day by day and only part of them come to the attention of the police. Another crime that created a new strategy online was “the Jokela school shooter”, when he “leaked” his plans over the internet. For those reasons the police found it necessary to act also in online services, to improve monitoring of what is going on there now.

Sergeant Forss proposed the idea to his superior in spring 2008. It came to use in September of the same year. For that purpose, he got a dedicated computer that is disconnected from the police network. He also was able to use his working hours to find out how best to improve the project.

In the beginning the youngsters were suspicious if he really was a police officer, although he has a picture wearing a police officer uniform at his profile. The process was completely new. There isnt any information if this has being used in any other country yet. There were also some accusations and insults, but mostly kids took well the presence of a police profile. However, many youngsters started to help on their own initiative, doing, for example, a logo for the profiles default picture. One of them did also profile modding, where the profile page looked the same as the police official webpage. Some even helped with technical support tips for problems in the use of the page.

The questions arrived in high quantity and by the end of the first week over 10,000 registered users had visited the police profile. A month later a national newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, told about the profile. That week we had over 35,000 visitors and hundreds of questions at same time. It was gaining the interest of a great amount of people and we got lots of compliments on our initiative on this public service. After such a great positive response  and a large amount of questions, the police profile -fobba- got even a fanclub community that currently has about 200 members .

The profile doesnt have any specific moderation rights, and the meaning of the profile is not to be a moderator. The police profiles do not censure e web pages or try to limit freedom of speech. The only difference from a regular IRC-Galleria user is that you can send him personal messages, which is otherwise is possible only to a VIP member on this site.  Over half of the messages are sent privately, which means that only the sender and the police profile owner can see them. The privacy is as secure as any text message transit.

Most of the questions are the similar to those that a police officer answers when he visits a school. The questions go from mopeds motor tuning regulation and the punishment for underage alcohol and tobacco use to how to become a police officer. For other specific questions it is always possible to contact the police on the email or any other existent communication option. From the very beginning, the police started to see the differences about working in the virtual world. Some of the questions were very personal, for example about sexual offence and violence  in the family. In extreme cases, there is the opportunity to use a MSN Messenger. That gives a possibility for a one to one intensive dialogue. The profile, however, is not there for registering crimes. Instead, it is a place where you can get information and guidance in diverse situations. So you may call it preventive police work. Sure, we recommend go to the police to make a formal complaint or accusation when needed. And we also explain the process that takes place after it is done. In some serious sexual offence Sergeant Forss has been more active also in the real world, helping the victim more directly, making contact with the Detective in the case. One of these victims is currently expecting a court case for rape.

Because at the beginning the questions were very much the same, the diary page was created for anyone to read the answers any time. Quite often, for example, the questions were about internet and school-bullying, drugs, sexual offences, mopeds and alcohol abuse. The texts at the diary were written very much from the police point of view and they explain how easy is to be involved in a crime unknowingly. The diary is written without formal law terms, the goal being that the young people really understand it. To make “the diary” more easy to find, the profile has a homepage at the police official webpage, www.poliisi.fi/irc-galleria, where you find links to the diary in a “news flash” way.

The profile takes part also in various site communities. Some very interesting conversations have happen at chat rooms called “Police sucks”, ”Anarchism” and “misanthropy”. At those communities you can really feel the absence of adult guidance in the virtual world. This “Brain wash” possibility open doors, for example, for drug abusers and drug offenders for manipulation. In these cases, the profile tries to introduce an adult point of view to the conversation.

The profile gets tips of crime activities without asking. Some of those tips are about different drug related crimes, suspicious web pages and writings. After the “Kauhajoki school shooting”, the profile got many links to pages where there were threatening pictures or texts. At own deliberation all suspicious material will be forwarded to the right police for examination. After the school shooting incidents, we received a lot of positive feedback  for our visible participation in the virtual world, which increases the safety atmosphere among the net users.

From the beginning, the profiles operation has included work as a uniformed police in the "real world" about once a month. The objective is to monitor intoxicated individuals and to meet the youngsters from the virtual conversations in the real world. At those meetings we have realized that for the youngsters, if you are “friends” in the virtual world you are “friends” in the  real world as well. So they dont make any distinction from real world to the virtual social life.

The drug patrol focuses on the most disturbed areas of the city. At the same time “the police profile” tells to youngsters what is happening in those areas. The police profile keeps in touch with those trouble makers online, advising this particular teenager of the consequences of what he would call “fooling around”. The drug patrol also takes part with the local police on the streets. This has brought out a positive result. As a result, the “out drinking” dropped in those disturbed areas in the centre. We got cooperation from the “Youth Social Community Katuluotsi” and the Social Department of the City of Helsinki. “Katuluotsi” supplied lots of information about the youth activities, as much as themselves through “the police profile”.

The police profile is used somewhat during daily crime investigations. The youngsters are easily reached at the profile and sometimes they are even being invited for interrogation. Investigators have used the profile as a preliminary contact that is very helpful. Several youngsters have indentified suspects at the profile and reported it to the police. Then the police have the job to find the real identity of the profile. Sometimes you may find even crime confessions on the diary registration.

Because of the positive feedback The Ministry on the Interior contacted Forss and made sure, that the project gets more financial support. It made possible to hire another police officer to work fulltime on the project. At the same time Helsinki Downtown Police Department added another police officer to work part time in the virtual local police activities. From the  beginning of May we have had three “Virtual Police Officers” in the Helsinki Downtown Police Department.

Virtual Police is a great opportunity that surely works for any other country, it can be shaped to every countrys demand, its development has no limits. Of course the publics and the young peoples relation to the Police may be diverse from one country to another, but it is good to remember that virtual policing can be used also for public relations (PR). The Virtual Community Policing has already attracted international attention. A Swedish police newspaper has published a story of it and it has been mentioned in international seminars in and out of Finland. We know there is a lot to be learned about use of the virtual world. Every day we find something new that keeps us moving in the right direction. The Virtual Community Policing is very cost effective and can reach a lot of people easily. Another good example of a new project that will use “IRC-Galleria” and the police profiles:

From the beginning, the police profile got complaints about all kinds of bullying incidents, and how a victim should react. The profile has advised in those cases and informed about the criminal charges that can be applied. Because of such interest, we had an idea that will come to practice on August.

The idea is to start in August 2009 a project to prevent school-bullying. We are working together with seven different District Police Precincts located in the centre close to junior high schools. It is easier to talk about personal problems online. We try to lower the level of informing about bullying. According to research, half of the bullying cases will not be told to anyone. It is also important to get the students to understand that bullying might be criminal behaviour.

In many cases the harassment goes on from the school to the virtual world, where the school has no power what so ever. Now we get better tools to work with it. It would also promote better cooperation between the police and schools, in case of trouble students.

Of course, it is not the intention of the police to disturb the work the school Headmaster. But an assault at school is as much a crime as it is on the streets. The school would deal with minor cases, and punish them, as it is used to.  And  they can also get the support of the police. In the worse cases, police will do a preliminary investigation and act as needed. The synergy benefit of it is, that the police profile works with under 18, crime investigations anyway.

The directors of schools were very pleased with this new opportunity. 

Project Start date:

2009

Project Status:

Fully Implemented

Is project still running?:

Yes

Date of last review:

décembre 2009

Contact details:

Not supplied

Documents:

FI-BPC-Virtual_Community_Policing-_final_.pdf - 30 décembre 2009 (88KB)

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