To Crack More Crimes, Arm Citizens with Information

“Time and again the public has shown its willingness to help produce happy endings. Citizens’ use of the Amber Alert is credited with saving 47 kidnapped children. In its 15-year history, America’s Most Wanted claims viewers have helped capture 746 criminals featured on the show. | Those successes aren’t merely the result of miracles. They happen when an alert public gets clear and timely information.”

To Crack More Crimes, Arm Citizens with InformationUSA Today)

A feel-good essay for a jittery and weary nation. Information is powerful. Information in the hands of trained experts is more powerful. Information in the hands of armies of amateurs is more powerful still — provided the experts have a good mechanism for filtering the good info from the bad. Police were slow to act on a tip provided by Elizabeth Smart’s little sister (who witnessed the abduction and fingered a suspect). Shortly after they publicized the sister’s info, they had their suspects and Elizabeth was back in her family’s arms. In the Beltway sniper case, police didn’t release their information about a burgundy sedan, and the public went wild chasing down white trucks. Shortly after the news about the burgundy sedan was leaked, the police had their suspects. But releasing information to the public has its downsides, too — remember Richard Jewell, the security guard whom the media nearly crucified in connection with the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing in 1996.