Met police build system to gather smartphone evidence after riots
PUBLISHED July 11, 2012
Inspired by systems that broadcasters such as the BBC use to gather, catalogue and publish so-called "user-generated content", Met officials have been holding talks with specialist software companies with a view to building its own.
It follows concerns that existing measures were not able to properly deal with the huge quantity of evidence of the mayhem on London's streets last August captured by the public using smartphones, and often instantly shared online.
The data nevertheless proved a useful supplement to CCTV evidence as the courts filled with rioters. The men who assaulted and robbed the Malaysian student Ashraf Rossli, while pretending to be good Samaritans, were convicted with the help of footage shot by a local resident on a smartphone. The incident had become a shocking symbol of lawlessness in London after it was posted on YouTube and shared around the world.
Ben Darby, a spokesman for StreamUK, which provides the BBC's user-generated content software, "Media Hub", said Met officials were concerned about how a system would cope with such a major incident.
"The Met were enquiring primarily about storage and how large a platform would have to be to operate under a similar peak to the London riots," he said.
"During the riots the platform experienced a peak of 24,000 submissions, consisting of image, audio and video content."
A Met spokeswoman confirmed officials were working on a new system for dealing with smartphone evidence.
"As part of ongoing contingency reviews and planning we have explored a number of technical options to enhance our ability to capture high volumes of data sent to the MPS from external sources," she said.
"We spoke to a number of companies about the solution they could offer that could best meet our needs and operational requirements."
No final decisions have been taken, and the approach to using the system could vary depending on what type of incident police are responding to. For instance, officers could issue a public appeal for as many photographs and videos as possible, or officers could go to websites such as YouTube and pull in relevant content to be properly categorised.
Many media organisations invested in such systems after the July 7 bombings of 2005, when footage shot on early smartphones provided much of the most valuable coverage.
Seven years later, the riots in London and other English cities raised a host of questions about the technological readiness of police to respond to major incidents in the age of smartphones and social networks. As well as struggling to deal with the volume of evidence generated by the public, the Met wrestled with what influence Facebook and Twitter had on disturbances.