Crowdsourcers Most Wanted: Civilians Search for Criminals

The latest trend in crowdsourcing has set its sights on ferreting out criminals by enticing civilians to participate in the hunt.

Mexico, for example, recently announced a policy to employ one of the oldest forms of crowdsourcing in law enforcement: cash rewards. The country, which suffers from millions of dollars worth of drug trafficking annually, is offering citizens a reward to turn in suspected money launderers. The reward is large – up to 25% of the illegal funds seized – but so is the risk that informants take. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, only a fourth of Mexicans report crimes because they believe that police are either incompetent or corrupt. Citizens who provide the authorities with information are putting themselves and their families in danger, risking retribution from gangs.

State-side, the FBI is enlisting civilians to help solve a baffling homicide by cracking a code. 12 years ago, Ricky McCormick was found dead in a cornfield 30 miles from his home in Missouri. The only lead in the case – two pages of “letters, numbers, dashes, and parentheses” found in McCormick’s pocket – has the FBI Cryptanalysis Unit stumped. According to McCormick’s family, the victim had been writing encrypted notes to himself since he was a kid, but no one knows how to decipher it. The FBI have posted the pages online in the hopes that someone will be able to finally crack the code which could telling detectives where McCormick was before his death or provide fresh leads.

Scientists at UC San Diego are looking for another known killer: Mongolian emperor Genghis Khan, responsible for the death of 15 million Chinese people during 5 years of territorial wars. Despite Khan’s notorious legacy, the location of his grave has been a mystery for centuries. With help from National Geographic, research scientist Dr. Albert Lin has launched a crowdsourcing project to sift through 85,000 satellite images of Mongolia in search of the ruler’s final resting place. So far, 7,000 volunteers have logged in to tag images as “roads,” “rivers,” “modern structures,” “ancient structures” or “other.” When an image is labeled “other” or “ancient structure” by numerous participants, Lin and his colleagues would “literally jump on horses or get in a helicopter and go check it out,” he explained. Some tags have been dead ends, but others have lead to the valuable discoveries such as of a Bronze Age tomb and the ruins of an ancient city.

Though the concept has been around for a while, crowdsourcing as a methodology is becoming increasingly more popular, and its applications more widespread. In what area will the next big trend in crowdsourcing arise? Medicine? The arts? Green energy? Or perhaps the crowd will solve the more mundane nuisances of life such as gridlocked traffic or laundry?

One response to “Crowdsourcers Most Wanted: Civilians Search for Criminals

  1. A very informative article, Jessica. I’ve been writing some on the McCormick notes, too. The crowdsourcing is a fantastic idea. Perhaps, we could find OBL with it. Have a nice Easter.

    Chris