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The Metropolitan Police is pushing a mug-shot gallery smartphone app so Londoners can help nab petty criminals across the capital.

New software called Facewatch ID displays police-issued images of unnamed suspects and sought-after witnesses for citizens to identify. Punters pop their postcode into the app to get photos of people linked to their area. Information about those pictured can be submitted in confidence directly to the cops using the software.

The app has been responsible for bringing 29 people to trial in the last two months, according to Facewatch, the firm behind the technology.

It's hoped the app, sponsored by BlackBerry manufacturer RIM, will help reduce low-level crime such as personal and shop theft, credit-card fraud and criminal damage.

Facewatch also provides an online crime reporting tool and a CCTV film and image upload system to the police. A spokesman for Facewatch explained that the firm supplies crime-reporting technology to businesses, crime-reduction partnerships in town centres and other such groups so images of miscreants can be shared among relevant organisations.

Facewatch ID uses the same infrastructure, but there will be additional costs if the app takes off. This expansion may be financed by a mix of sponsorship and advertising revenues; there's no plan to charge for the application itself.

Only the police will be allowed to upload images, something that ought to add as a safeguard against abuse. Businesses and the general public will not be able to submit pics. The spokesman added that some of these images may have been taken during last year's riots.

The service officially launched in London on Wednesday with over 2,000 images of people the MPS would like to identify - however appeals in investigations into more serious offences will reside on the Crimestoppers website.

Facewatch ID will shortly include images from the City of London Police and the British Transport Police for London.

Welcome to Neighbourhood Watch 2.0

The technology effectively asks punters "do you know this person?", bringing a technique featured on the BBC's long-running Crimewatch programme to a smartphone platform. Less charitably it might be described as a dream app for curtain-twitching types. Britain has the highest density of CCTV systems in the world, so there will be no shortage of raw material.

Met Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, responsible for Specialist Crime and Operations said: "The Metropolitan Police Service is determined to exploit the opportunities presented by CCTV to solve crime. The general public can support us in this - both by providing us with images - and then helping us to identify those who are responsible for committing crime.

"This new Facewatch crime app helps people to do this by giving them the ability to identify those suspected of committing crime in their local communities. I support the role that Facewatch can play in getting images to us faster and more efficiently - enabling us to arrest more criminals - and thereby making people feel safer. I would encourage as many people as possible to use the app to view these images and send in information."

Simon Gordon, chairman of Facewatch added: “The Facewatch ID app runs off the same secure infrastructure running our free crime reporting system for businesses and is available free to any police force in the UK – further forces are being added in the near future." ®

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