East Lansing, Mich., Uses Web Site to Make Final Four Riot Arrests

When Michigan State University lost to Duke University in the Final Four of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, a student riot broke out on MSU's East Lansing, Mich., campus. City tech officials then teamed with MSU police to use the World Wide Web to help apprehend suspects.

Three days after the March 27 riot, the site, at www.ci.east-lansing.mi.us/riot, was posted with photographs and video images of students engaged in bad behavior. Visitors were asked to submit information to identify suspects. The site had more than 40,000 hits, and two individuals turned themselves in after their photographs were posted.

"Obviously this is something that has been a black eye for MSU and a black eye for the city of East Lansing," said Rod Taylor, information systems manager for the city. "But this is a high-profile event, and the media has been covering it every day. Using the site, we were able to make the most out of a lot of media photos and videos of students committing criminal behavior."

The site features a Hall of Shame gallery of photos from the riot, It also has reward information and an "anonymous tip line" that site visitors could use to submit their phone numbers and e-mail for questioning by police. Now removed from the site is a field that allowed informants to submit narrative information on possible suspects. That avenue for tip submissions was shut down after the site was hacked, and sensitive data was released around the university campus.

"We have now posted a very strong warning to people that if they are using this information to harass people, that is against the law," Taylor said. "We also want to warn other city officials and police departments that if they are thinking about doing something like this, they should cover all of their bases."

A week after the site was posted, hackers worked their way into a hidden subdirectory that contained the tips. Taylor said the city will also remove the tip field for gathering e-mail addresses from informers. "We don't want to run the risk of this happening again," he said.


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