Tired of selfies? Police want you to take more

Wed, 2014-08-27 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

If you aren’t the person who’s snapping and posting selfies everywhere you go, you may find the trend a bit annoying. Police, however, aren’t tired of selfies. In fact, they want us to snap more of them. It turns out, they’re a huge help in cracking tough cases.

Finding missing children is often difficult, but police in Columbia, Ohio, say the slew of selfies available is sometimes making that job easier, especially when it comes to finding teenage girls who run away.

It wasn’t long ago that if police needed a picture of a missing child, the most recent one available would have been a posed headshot taken at the beginning of the school year. Now they can often find photos that are just a few days -- and sometimes only a few hours -- old.

In fact, in one recent case, police were looking for a 15-year-old girl who was last seen in a red tank top. She was quickly found and returned home -- perhaps because they were able to share a picture of her wearing it.

Hunting for a chameleon

But the Columbus Dispatch reports there’s more to it than just how fresh the photos are. Selfies do a better job of getting the community to care. If you’re asking the public to be on the lookout for someone, a candid photo taken by the person missing is more likely to be more memorable and inspire action than a staged class shot that has all the emotional allure of a driver’s license photo.

Besides, the selfie also captures the person’s personality, showing them more how they really are.

According to the Dispatch, teenage girls have always posed a particular problem for police because they can change their appearance dramatically and rapidly. It’s not unusual for a runaway to completely change her hairstyle and color. But because teens take so many selfies -- there are more than 150 million posted on Instagram alone -- police often have pictures of the person they’re looking for in a variety of clothing and hairstyles.

Crime clues in plain view

There have also been cases where selfies have helped police focus on a person of interest in seemingly random crimes where there are hundreds of potential suspects. One of the most dramatic cases where selfies have helped was in the murder of a popular school counselor in a small North Carolina town.

Police had questioned more than 150 suspects, but it wasn’t until they reviewed the selfies shot by one that they realized they may have their man. The man who was eventually charged with the crime took several selfies on the day of the murder. His pictures appeared to show fresh scratches on his face and a missing clump of hair. Police believed the counselor put up a violent struggle before she died.

The temptation to post selfies is too great for some criminals. Inmates in a Kentucky prison posted pictures of themselves and mobile phones and money that they weren’t supposed to have. And a British drug mule was caught after he posted pictures of himself kissing his wads of cash.

You may also want to read…


Get Smart Cities Now, our weekly newsletter highlighting smart city trends, technologies and techniques. It's just one of the benefits you receive by joining the Smart Cities Council (and your membership is free).