Calls for witnesses, public inquiries: The Police rely on the support of the public

How and why?

The Police regularly publish calls for witness and public inquiries through the media. Social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, enable the Police to target the largest possible number of people. However, readers are often critical in their feedback. The image quality and/or the period of time between the incident and the call for witnesses are often criticised.


In the 2 scenarios above, police and criminal investigation procedures must both be initiated beforehand.


Let's use the example of someone having their credit card stolen. The person must first realise they have been the victim of a theft. We will assume it takes the complainant 2 days to notice and another 2 days to file a complaint with the Police.

After filing the complaint, the officer in charge has a maximum of 40 days to send the report to the public prosecutor (Prosecutor's Office) (Ministère public (Parquet)). The police officer uses this time to make preliminary investigations, among other things. If they obtain information confirming that the alleged perpetrator withdrew money from a cash machine using the stolen bank or credit card, they must pinpoint the exact location of the withdrawal and inform the bank.

The process

However, the decision to seize images or video recordings from surveillance cameras is made by the judicial authorities and not the police officer. Several procedures can be initiated by the public prosecutor or investigating judge. The public prosecutor can ask the investigating judge to order confiscation, without having to formally open a criminal investigation, which makes the process a lot easier. Subject to the order, the seized images are then sent to the Prosecutor's Office or examined immediately.

Image quality

It should be noted that neither the Police nor the Prosecutor's Office is responsible for the quality of photographs in calls for witnesses. We must not forget the conditions in which these images are recorded. They certainly cannot be compared to controlled shots taken by a mobile phone. We should also bear in mind the difference between the image and video storage capacities of the various companies and mobile phones.


Before official calls for witnesses can be published in the press, they, along with public inquiries, are first disseminated internally through Police networks. Some of these inquiries have been resolved using information provided by police officers. If the internal appeal does not yield any results, however, only a written press release is ordered by the Prosecutor's Office.

There are instances of wallet thefts and thefts using tricks or similar tactics, where it is not always possible during the immediate search to provide an instant photograph of the alleged perpetrator.

Of course, the memory fades over time and a delay to the call for witnesses combined with a poor quality image of the alleged perpetrator may not produce a result, but there is still a chance someone will recognise the wanted person or that they have been seen recently.

There have been several occasions where cases have been solved with the help of the general public, and the people featuring in the images used in the calls for witnesses have been recognised and identified. Similarly, some people have handed themselves into the Police when they realised they were wanted.

So the Police ask for your understanding when the quality of the photos released may be poor, or if there is a delay in publishing calls for witnesses, but nevertheless hope to be able to continue counting on help from the public.

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