Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Using Craigslist To Fight Crime (

The effort to crowdsource a solution to the rash of church burglaries in St. Paul has been making some headway of late. One of the more interesting products to come out of the effort is a whitepaper on how to automate the collection of data using the RSS feeds from Craigslist.

Craigslist is an online classified advertising service that is available for many towns and cities. It is no surprise then that criminals try to use it to fence stolen goods. This is not a new phenomena (criminals use whatever is available and popular to sell stolen property -- pawn shops, flea markets, even, upon occasion, print classifieds). Craigslist cooperates with local law enforcement to keep their trade legit but, given the volume of listings, there is no way they can eliminate all of the traffic.

Being able to quickly scan Craigslist for known stolen items, then, seems to be a valuable tool in the law enforcement analyst's arsenal. Mike Himley, President and CEO of Eagle Intelligence, and a major contributor to the crowdsourcing effort on the St. Paul's churches, has come up with a simple tutorial that allows anyone to set up such a scan. I could easily imagine this as a part of a classroom exercise or as a real tool to help law enforcement identify and recover stolen property.

Even if the St. Paul Church Burglary crowdsourcing initiative does nothing but add these kinds of tools to the analyst's arsenal, it has been more than worth the effort.


Ian Drake said...

This is something I'm working on now. I'm creating a service where theft victims can enter in the details of their property and my system will monitor online sites (like Craigslist) for matches.

I'm glad your giving this issue the attention it deserves. I'm looking to see how receptive local police departments will be to adopting this type of service.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

I just checked your site. is pretty cool too. I know the guys doing the St Paul Church Burglary analysis could use some of your expertise. I hope you can find a few minutes to help (It would be a good test case for your new product...).