Website helps investigators "ID this person"

Two cops from the Chicagoland area came up with an innovative answer to the problem of getting positive identification of suspects from citizens who have that information

Too many criminal investigations get shelved because the suspect was not identified, despite the fact that an image of the individual was available to law enforcement. For “lower level” crimes, images of suspects are posted in the squad room, shown at roll call, and distributed in a bulletin to other law enforcement agencies in the area.

Even for high-profile cases, where images of suspects obtained from video footage are aired on local television newscasts, if the right person isn’t watching the right program at the right time, no connection is likely to be made.

In essence, the opportunity to connect the dots and get a positive ID on a suspect is frequently fleeting. Rob Sherwood and Jeff Burgner — two law enforcers working at an agency in the Chicagoland area — came up with an innovative solution to this problem. 

Matchmaker, Make Me a Match gives concerned citizens a safe, anonymous, Internet-based venue to get involved in helping investigators close cases, put offenders behind bars, and future criminal activity by those offenders. The website is totally free to use by both law enforcement and citizen users. 

“The idea to create the site stemmed from our frustration with the inability to identify unknown suspects from video footage,” Burgner said. “We realized that everyone is known to somebody, and law enforcement did not have a convenient way of engaging the public.”

Sherwood and Burgner came up with the general vision for the site, worked with a local web designer, and launched in the Chicago area in the summer of 2011. Very soon after the site launched, departments in the Chicagoland area — Oswego, Yorkville, Aurora, Montgomery, and St. Charles — signed up for the service. Since then, the site has expanded to have more than 800 users in 20 states across the country.

The website has LE users from federal as well as state and local law enforcement agencies, including the United States Postal Service, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Law-Enforcement Only
The ability to create a profile and upload images on the site is restricted to federal, state, and local law enforcement. Agencies may begin using the site immediately after completing the simple registration process. While they may then instantly upload as many images as they want, those images won’t “go live” on the site for public viewing until the account is verified. That process normally takes about 24 hours, according to the FAQ page.

“We are not a clearinghouse or database which retains personal information of those identified,” Sherwood emphasized. “That information is only retained by the law enforcement agencies using the website.”

Agencies with the most success using have engaged their local community through Facebook, Twitter, and local news outlets via their PIO or media relations officer.

To assist in that effort, law enforcement users can download a press release form that enables investigators and PIOs to easily submit images and case information to local media outlets. 

Furthermore, the company has created a bulletin/flier template that allows the agency to attach a local image and print it for display in their lobby, booking area, or anywhere else appropriate. 

Encouraging the Citizen Connection
When Sherwood and Burgner considered how they would generate traffic to the website it became apparent that there needed to be some type of incentive. They decided to offer a $25 gift card to the first person to correctly identify a person of interest in an image. 

Sherwood explained that anyone providing a tip which leads to the positive identification of a subject is eligible to receive a reward.

They pay those rewards by ad revenue generated on the site. When there isn’t sufficient revenue to cover it, Sherwood and Burgner compensate positive ID tips out of their own pockets.

To ensure the most exposure for images that agencies submit, citizen visitors to the site search by state. This will allow visitors to view more images without having to search neighboring communities.

“We have had dozens of positive identifications, and as we become known throughout the country we are confident this site will become a deterrent for criminal activity in areas where surveillance cameras are utilized,” Sherwood concluded.

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor at Large for PoliceOne, responsible for providing police training content and expert analysis on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 900 feature articles and tactical tips. Doug is also responsible for planning and recording the PoliceOne Podcast, Policing Matters, as well as being the on-air host for PoliceOne Video interviews. Doug also works closely with the PoliceOne Academy to develop training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Doug regularly represents PoliceOne as a public speaker in a variety of forums and is available for media interviews — he has appeared on numerous local and national radio and television news programs, and has been quoted in a host of print publications. 

Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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