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Digital crime-fighting

March 12, 2012

Cops in the Netherlands are hoping that their citizens will use one of two new apps to check on their phones for suspects. One was created by a Dutch startup that outsources to Kosovo.

Ruud Smulders, who manages the M. Foundation, demonstrates the Anoniem app. Schlagworte: smartphone, crime, amsterdam, kosovo Foto: Nate Tabak 2012 in Pristina Artikel über Smartphone crime-fighting apps
In the last three months two crimefighting apps have come outImage: Nate Tabak

In the Netherlands, wanted posters are now going digital, giving the Dutch police a way to boost their crimefighting capabilities via smartphones. Two new applications are empowering ordinary people to assist authorities in capturing suspects - and they're starting to have modest, but tangible results.

A couple weeks ago, the Amsterdam police were looking for two suspects accused of pilfering a senior's bank account. The cops had pictures of them. So, Commissioner Bart Driessen alerted the public.

"On a Friday afternoon we put two girls, women the age of 20 and 23 - we put them on the Internet," he told DW. "Saturday morning, they both were on the police station, and [they said] ‘Hey [we're on] that app, you are looking for [us]?,' ‘Yeah, we are looking for you - you're under arrest,' and they're now in prison.”

The suspects saw their mug shots on the Amsterdam police's smart phone app, DePolitieZoekt - In Dutch, that means: “The police are looking”

"They were recognized not only by themselves, but also their friends and surroundings, they saw, ‘Hey you're on the Internet,' he added. "It's, yeah, shaming. That's a good word. Shaming of them."

Timbur Xhabiri, a programmer at SPRIGS in Pristina, helped make Anoniem for the iPhone. Schlagworte: smartphone, crime, amsterdam, kosovo Foto: Nate Tabak 2012 in Pristina Artikel über Smartphone crime-fighting apps
Dutch law enforcement says they have made a few new arrests thanks to the softwareImage: Nate Tabak

Thousands of downloads so far

DePolitieZoekt was released in November for the iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile platforms. The app has more than 115,000 downloads so far. It features a gallery of essential digital wanted posters.

They include photos and in some cases embedded videos of the wanted suspects, such as a recent one of a suspect who is believed to have stolen 144 liters of gasoline instead of the 35 liters that he'd paid for. Anyone who recognizes the suspected gas thief can tip off police directly from the app. Fill out a form and hit send. It goes directly to the investigators on the case.

Driessen, who oversees DePolitieZoekt, says response to the app has been staggering.

“We can reach thousands of numbers of citizens in the city to warn them or to get their assistance in making it safer in the city," he said. "What we do see is that those smart phone users are very interested in the messages from the police force.”

Amsterdam police Commissioner Bart Driessen runs the department's smart-phone app, DePolitieZoekt. Schlagworte: smartphone, crime, amsterdam, kosovo Foto: Nate Tabak 2012 in Pristina Artikel über Smartphone crime-fighting apps
Bart Driessen, the Amsterdam police commissioner, has praised the new appImage: Nate Tabak

Another addition, Anoniem

While DePolitieZoekt is only being used in Amsterdam, a national anti-crime organization, known as the M. Foundation, launched its smartphone app, Anoniem, just last month. It's sort of like DePolizieZoekt, but this one has no direct links to police.

Each day at its headquarters in a small town in central Holland, the M. Foundation takes about 300 anonymous crime tips via phone calls from across the Netherlands. M. evaluates the tips and sends them to law enforcement if appropriate. The tips have led to thousands of arrests. But one recent call marked the first of its kind.

“There was a street robber wanted by the police, and it was on our app," said, Ruud Smulders, the manager of the M. Foundation, in a DW interview. "And he was arrested a few days after he was published on our app. So there's one success I can say now.”

As Smulders pulls up the app on his iPhone 4, the app shows and animated pistol, followed by a menu, and after a brief moment, he taps it open and starts browsing gallery of the Netherlands' most wanted.

“This one is a robber, and this is a thief, a known thief, and this guy, well, he looks bad," he said with a grin.

While there's certainly a bit of fun to be had in perusing Anoniem's gallery of rogues, Smulders says he hopes more users will put those images into action.

"When you see their photo, when you're sitting on a terrace and drinking your coffee and you can recognize someone, you say, ‘Hey, this is this criminal wanted by the police, and you can swipe on the app, and see all the information, and you can push one button, and you can call us.”

Timbur Timbur Xhabiri showing Anoniem from the programming console. Schlagworte: smartphone, crime, amsterdam, kosovo Foto: Nate Tabak 2012 in Pristina Artikel über Smartphone crime-fighting apps
Timbur Xhabiri was one of the Kosovo-based developers for AnoniemImage: Nate Tabak

Outsourcing to Kosovo

But what's even more interesting than these Dutch digital wanted posters, is that they were created by programmers in Kosovo, via SPRIGS, a Dutch company that outsources its programming operations to Prishtina. Kosovo's capital boasts a large community of tech-savvy young people and late last year had its first startup weekend.

A half-dozen young Kosovar Albanian programmers work at computers at a repurposed apartment that now houses the technical brain trust of this IT outsourcing company. Anoniem is the highest-profile job to date for SPRIGS, which was founded in late 2010, by a Dutch entrepreneur. IT outsourcing is one of the economic bright spots in Europe's second-poorest country.

“Most people here don't know the difference between Poland and Kosovo," explained Thom van der Veen, who works in SPRIGS's front office in Amsterdam.

"But I think it's good for them to see that what we deliver is actually good, and mostly we're quite on time with things. And they're quite impressed with that.”

Author: Nate Tabak, Amsterdam
Editor: Cyrus Farivar