Bridgeport, Conn., officials rolled out a new smart phone application that will make it easier to report crime and send in tips to the Bridgeport Police Department.
The free app, iWatchBridgeport, allows users to send police pictures and video, as well as to text cops information about suspected criminal activity, anonymously if they wish.
"In a single click, it gives a citizen a chance to send in a crime tip," said Dan Elliott, who developed the application for his software company, iThinqWare. "And they can do it anonymously. It's a big difference from the way we did things the old way, and the way we do things the new way."
The mobile app was first used by the Dallas Police Department beginning in October 2010. Elliott said that in the intervening year, Dallas police received 1,600 crime tips and made 67 felony arrests because of people using the app to send in information. Since then, 68 other police and sheriff's departments nationwide, he said, have launched their own "iWatch" applications, including, Los Angeles; Duluth, Minn.; Harris County, Texas; Grapevine, Texas; and Orange, Calif.
Elliott said that he developed the app after his own brushes with crime. About a decade ago, the fiancee of his brother was murdered after her car mechanic broke into her home, and, more recently, he lost his wallet in a stick-up.
The app also tells police your location if you hit the "Call 911" selection if your phone has embedded GPS location data. Also, when you call in a voice message after selecting "Call Tip Line," the cops get a text version of your call.
It's available for the Android and Apple's iPhone. An application for the Blackberry phone will be available in a few days, Elliott said. In addition, it's possible to visit the iWatchBridgeport.com website and submit a tip in a similar manner by clicking on the "If You See Something Say Something" box.
Users can also use the app to get instant notifications on their phones or by email on school closings, road closings, most wanted criminals and weather alerts.
The app was rolled out at a press conference that took place at Bassick High School in front of about 120 students and a dozen teachers. Officials said that getting high school students to download the app will go a long way to reduce crime in Bridgeport.
"We're one of the first police departments in the Northeast to get this," said Mayor Bill Finch, who took the opportunity to thank President Barack Obama and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, for securing grant funds to 40 additional police officers in the city, 20 of whom were inducted into force Friday night.
"This is a way for citizens to get involved in homeland security," said Police Chief Joseph Gaudett. "This is a way for us to create a relationship with people, especially in the high schools. We want to reach you where you are. Now, when you see something, send something."
Also speaking was state Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, who said that thanks to resident participation, crime in the city has dropped.
"When I was growing up 18 years ago, drug dealers were so bold that they would stop you on the street and ask you if you wanted to buy drugs or sell drugs," he said. "But the people who live here made the choice to start making the calls that they never made before. This application is another tool the we can use."
The mayor and Chief Gaudett credited Lt. David Daniels with discovering the app and recommending that the city use it. Daniels told the gathering that he ran across the iWatchDallas app while on a trip by reading the newspapers there.
"I wanted to make sure that Bridgeport was the first city on the whole Eastern Seaboard to get this application," Daniels said, a 23-year veteran of the force.
Elliott recalls Chief David Brown of Dallas, describing iWatch as "community policing 2.0." Elliott continues, "I knew we had something unique, but when the Department of Homeland Security said "there was nothing like it on the planet" I had to pick my self up off the floor."
In October 2010, the company launched iWatch version 1.0 with Dallas Police Department. The system started with simple text messaging but has leaped forward to the current version 5.0 to include text messaging, speech-to-text conversion and built-in translation. Tips from citizens can now include text messages, images and videos, and are "smart" by including location data that permits agencies to intelligently route a tip to the nearest patrol division. The system also includes a built-in dashboard for law enforcement that can be administered from a PC or a mobile device.
Despite all the back end technical sophistication of iWatch, the company realized that ease of use and a clean, elegant interface would make the product more convenient and citizen-friendly. Elliott explains, "We also recognized that every cellular carrier and every device and every citizen should be able to turn in a crime tip, which is why we made iWatch for the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry." Citizens can also use iWatch from a PC or can actually talk directly to the iWatch server through a dedicated toll-free tip hotline, which receives phone call tips and converts them to text for law enforcement review.
IthinQware's iWatch Application permits Police to implement the "See something, Say something" program set forth by the Department of Homeland Security.
"We decided that the only thing missing in the 'See Something, Say Something' program was the mobile phone in the palm of your hand. Until we invented the iWatch application, no citizen could say something with enough immediacy or with the precise detail that a Fusion center or CID could fully benefit from having," said Dan Elliott. "We made it work where no other application could, and the proof is in the tips".