Application leverages social media to solve crime
Morgan Wright wants to be the next John Walsh. The host of the long-running television program “America’s Most Wanted,” Walsh became an advocate for victim’s rights and missing children after his son Adam was abducted and murdered in 1981 — a highly publicized case that was dramatized in two television movies. No one was ever convicted in the case. Walsh’s subsequent advocacy work led to passage of the Missing Children Act of 1982, the Missing Children’s Assistance Act of 1984, and the founding of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Walsh’s show publicizes cases involving fugitives who allegedly committed heinous crimes that include kidnapping, murder, rape, child molestation and armed robbery. Viewers are encouraged to call a hot line with tips, which have led to more than 1,000 arrests during the quarter century that the show has been broadcast.
Wright — former global industry solutions manager for public safety for Cisco Systems who more recently was vice president of Alcatel-Lucent’s global public-safety segment — believes he has something that will increase exponentially the reach of Walsh’s concept. Wright wants to leverage the power of social networking to spawn volunteer crime stoppers from coast to coast.
“This is where ‘America’s Most Wanted’ meets Facebook meets ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,'” said Wright, a former police officer who bills himself as “chief crime fighter” for Connected to the Case, a website designed to connect ordinary citizens to cases via social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
“If you give a police officer two ‘knowns,’ he can solve for the unknown,” Wright said. “Social media is about solving for the unknown first, discovering things. You can’t connect the dots until you discover the dots.”
Wright believes there are lots of dots waiting to be discovered. The key is social media, which connects people to each other; Connected to the Case wants to connect them for a higher purpose.
“As I tell my kids, it’s not what you know, but who you know. And it’s not who you know, but who I know,” Wright said. “So it’s not just your friends, but the friends of those friends.”
It works fairly simply. Anyone can log on to the website, where many open cases are listed. Information about each case is provided, including images of alleged perpetrator(s) and victim(s). Tips can be provided anonymously and are sent directly to law-enforcement officers working the case. Tip providers that choose to log into their Facebook account to leave a tip create a connection that is the so-called secret sauce.
“Facebook does 95% of our work for us,” Wright said. “All I’m doing is putting an overlay on top of that information and turning it into something that makes sense for law enforcement.”
To fully leverage that connection, Wright’s development team is working on an algorithm that will enable Connected to the Case to weigh not the tip itself, but the connection. The idea is that the more solid the connection, the more solid the tip will be.
“Once you’ve connected, Facebook’s [application interface] has 22 separate areas that we can use to connect you back to that case,” Wright said. “This is where the ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ come in. When we look at that tip, we might not know who [submitted it], but I can judge the weight of that tip.
“For example, a tip might have a score of 80 out of a possible 100, based on date, location, time, demographics or relation. That allows me to look at the higher-weight tips first and then work my way down to the lower-weight tips. It will be done by an algorithm that simply looks at what connects you [to the case].”
Another reason why Facebook is crucial to the initiative is that it lets Wright get the word out. Already, Connected to the Case’s page has generated almost 25,000 “likes.” According to Wright, those fans have nearly 10 million friends.
One obvious concern that law-enforcement agencies might have is that as word continues to get out, Connected to the Case will generate an overwhelming avalanche of tips. As a former police officer, Wright doesn’t see that as an issue.
“As a detective, I never solved a case with too few leads,” he said. “Having too many leads, as opposed to no leads, is a good problem to have.”