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German cops are calling them the best new weapon to hunt down crooks: mobile phones.

More than 75 per cent of Germany’s 85 million-plus inhabitants own a mobile phone. Many of them are taxi and bus drivers, delivery people and others who professionally spend a lot of time on the ground. More so, in fact, than the country’s police force. That’s why Germany’s cash-strapped government has turned to its mobilized citizens for help in tracking down suspected criminals, fugitives and even missing persons.

In what is believed to be the first service of its kind in the world, citizens over 16 years old can now register with the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (known as BKA) to become a volunteer mobile-phone cop.

The service is based on registered volunteers receiving a brief SMS (or short message service) message on their mobile phones from the police and calling back if they spot someone. A typical message could read: “Police searching for bank robber, male, approx. 30 years old, wearing jeans, black leather jacket, driving black BMW sedan, D