Image: citizens work together with the police (the slide is entitled: “A 1000 eyes”)

There are a growing number of?WhatsApp vigilante groups that try to build a safer neighborhood on?a local scale?(part of the groups are also active on Twitter). WhatsApp enables users to exchange messages for free and share files with each other. The exact number of groups that are active in the Netherlands is unknown, but a tour on social media reveals that residents have formed dozens of ‘digital neighborhood watches’ in different municipalities. Below there is list of such municipalities in which both police, municipality, citizens and entrepreneurs can be initiator or member. Let us know if you know of any other WhatsApp vigilante group in the world and we’ll add it to the list below.

Ede
The WhatsApp groups Ede West is meant to keep thieves outside. The police officers of Ede-West have a wish: … a 1000-eyes in Ede-West. Since the numbers of burglaries in the neighborhood of Rietkampen have increased a great deal last year, the police officers call for the people to join WhatsApp and be a member. In 2012, the number of burglaries increased by 300 percent, compared to a year earlier.

Especially during the holiday period, there are many burglaries. Via WhatsApp citizens and the police can easily exchange information. The police thinks that in this way perpetrators can be caught. But in an emergency citizens are requested to always call 112 (911) first.

Eersel
On the site of the municipality of Eersel are some example situations where the WhatsApp group can come in handy. “Last week I took the dog out and saw three guys come through the hedge of a garden in the distance. Thanks to my message, they were kept at a distance. These guys don’t like smartphones that captures them in the act. It was immediately reported to the police.” and “Two men came into my store and one of them made me a chat about energy efficiency. The other was taking pictures using his tablet device of my whole store. After he had completed his full reconnaissance the chat was quickly cut off. It did not feel right and I have warned other shopkeepers via the Whatsapp group.” Or “At the grocery store, I saw some weirdos with shopping carts. They dropped a box and asked me for help in picking up their groceries. After picking some oranges I saw one of them was near my cart with my purse in it. I did not trust it and I shared ??a WhatsApp message. One of the group members responded that this message should be shared with the police. That caused me to eventually call the police.”

Bennekom
A boom in home burglaries caused residents of Bennekom to start a special Whatsapp group. Meanwhile, some 160 people get a notification when someone signals scum nearby. Since October, it happened three times, said Dave van den Berg, one of the initiators of the group. “Last week, three boys came walking out of a garden. Thanks to the message they were then monitored from a remote location.” The police was informed immediately. As long as that happens, police officer Renzo Scholte praises these?initiative of the residents in his area. “The more people are looking for a suspect, the better.” Whasapp is a welcome addition to Citizennet Scholte thinks, “If people inform each other, that is as fast as it gets.”

Frank Smilda, social media expert within the police understands that people want to use Whatsapp to intervene or warn against danger in their neighborhoods. The police simply can not be present on every street corner. And Whatsapp is a much more powerful tool than the neighborhood watch ‘old school style’, where people patrol on the streets. “Everyone can quickly reach a very large group of people to tip them off, and possibly share pictures.” Smilda warns that the neighborhood vigilante with a smartphone sitting in his porch is not without danger. “Innocent people could be mistaken for burglars. Nobody wants that”. Therefore, according to Smilda, it’s a good thing police officers join these Whatsapp groups. So that they know exactly what is going on in the neighborhood. “And they can keep an eye on people that want to play judge and jury.”

“It’s a tremendously good addition to criminal investigations. It is a participation society in the making,” says social security expert Arnout de Vries. “The police want more eyes and ears on the street?anyway, and this is what takes care of that.” But he also warns: “There are however significant risks in that people take justice in their own hands and ‘groupthink’ could play a role as well, which means that the entire group is thinking in the same direction, which doesn’t have to be true necessarily.”In such a network each citizen is like?a team player, serving to the police,” says De Vries. And that’s where law enforcement needs to step up the plate. “The police have to take hold of these possible teamplayers. If they do not respond to these new and emerging needs, this is a missed opportunity.”

 

Utrecht

Whatsapp als waarschuwingsdienst. Zo gebruiken Utrechtse studenten de berichtenservice nadat er meerdere vrouwen in de stad zijn aangerand. Via whatsapp roepen meiden elkaar op om ‘s nachts goed uit te kijken en het liefst niet alleen de straat op de gaan.?In Utrecht is een?groep vandalen opgespoord, mede doordat ongeruste wijkbewoners een whatsapp-groep hadden?opgericht.

Whatsapp as a warning service works well. Students in Utrecht started the message service after several women in the city were assaulted. Through whatsapp girls call each other at night to travel together and watch the streets. They preferably don’t go into the streets by themselves. Also a group of vandals was discovered, partly because residents formed a WhatsApp group.

In Hoograven eight cars were burned since New Years Eve. Additional measures were taken among residents through a Whatsapp group to combat the home and car break-ins that plagued the neighborhood. The founder of the ‘digital neighborhood watch’ Martijn Traas said:” The car fires might be something temporary, but have caused a lot of turmoil. People are afraid these days.”

Haren
Initiated by Gert Bruns, owner of the Intermezzo restaurant in Haren, shopkeepers in Haren are going to guard against burglars and other people with bad intentions, using WhatsApp. Meanwhile, already forty entrepreneurs reported in a warning group. Suspects are shared directly to each other and the police have been positive about the groups and are keen to join.

Concerned residents of the district Zwolle also start a neighborhood watch. Recently a 72-year-old woman passed away in the neighborhood after she was seriously injured in a burglary. Residents wrote on Facebook that it was time to call for action. “It’s over and done with all these burglaries in our neighborhood. Now it has even demanded a fatality.” After an initial broadcast of Crime Watch on TV about 20 tips were received regarding the death of the 72-year-old woman. The police will start investigations on all of them. The Public Prosecutor has been promised a reward of 5,000 euros for the ‘golden’ tip in this case. On the Facebook page of the community residents are invited to join the neighborhood watch WhatsApp group.

Rules for the neighborhood

The WhatsApp group rules of Ede West are:

1. Participants have a minimum age of 18 years.

2.?Participants?reside/ live in Ede West .

3.WhatsApp is a citizens’ initiative. – The police only comes into action when a notification is made at 112 or other emergency phone numbers.

4.Use the WhatsApp according SAAR acronym
– S = Signal
– A = Alert 112
– A = App to share your message with others.
– R = Reply by for example going out on the streets ?and try and make contact with the person.

The intent is that we disrupt the plans of the accused person or perpetrator (“Break the case before it happens”).
Do this only if you can do it without any risks. For example just to have a chat with the person.

5. Use Whats App to create and share a message with each other if 112 has been called! Prevent a load of 112 calls.

6. Mind your language. No swearing, cursing, discrimination and the like.

7. Don’t play judge and jury don’t violate any rules or laws. Don’t even hold a cell phone while driving a vehicle.

8. Sending pictures of a suspect is only allowed to provide a description, when absolutely necessary for the report. Offender characteristics such as sex, color, length and face can well be described in text. For vehicles think about mentioning color, brand, type and license plate registration number .

9. Use Whats App group(s) only to share messages for purposes of security and not for mutual contact / private messages .

Sources:?Omroep Gelderland, AD, RTV Noord Holland, De Stentor, Hart van Nederland, Vandaag.nl, Whatsappen.nl, BN De Stem, Tubantia, Dagblad van het Noorden, RTLNieuws, RTV Oost, DeWeekkrant.nl, DUIC, WeblogZwolle.

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