JOHANNESBURG: The camera work is not perfect and the footage a little grainy, but the Toronto policewoman looks straight into the camera and immediately asks for help.
She wants the public to help her catch a man wanted for a vicious sexual assault which she details right down to his black puffy jacket, as a police sketch of his stocky unsmiling face appears onscreen.
It’s a move that marries hugely popular online social networking with old-fashioned police work: the footage is on the world’s biggest video sharing site YouTube. The aim is to tap into the massive community that can’t go a day without logging on to chat, share information and soak up online multi-media. And the global police agency Interpol has taken note. It has already nabbed two prolific paedophiles after unprecented public appeals netted hundreds of tip-offs, and has video clips of Rwandan war criminals on Facebook, Myspace and YouTube.
One case that stands out is that of a 17-year-old who was beaten, stripped naked and murdered in a gruesome attack believed to have been watched by more than 100 people. A nine month investigation proved fruitless. Then the police turned to YouTube and a short while later they solved the case.