Want to fight crime using high-tech gadgets? Put away the cape and pull out your smartphone. The Victoria Police Department, working with Sunnyvale, Calif., startup MobilePD, has released Canada’s first crime-reporting mobile app: VicPD. Victoria police hope the app will eventually replace the onerous and expensive process of gathering information on crime reports and free up more time for bustin’ punks.
Based on a platform initially developed for the Santa Cruz Police Department in 2011, the VicPD app uses messaging services to collect information related to petty theft, property damage, and other minor offences—10 in all—in the municipalities of Esquimalt and Victoria. The app is actually an interface linked into two services. Submitted reports are published on it for public use and the second service is a data-input feature that allows users to contribute reports.
The VicPD app is intended to collect information after the fact; offences in progress still demand a 911 call. It is hoped that as adoption of the app grows, the volume of information available to local law enforcement will increase accordingly, and the demand on emergency services for lower-priority crimes will lessen. The information gathered can also be used for other applications, such as the Crime Mapping project (www.crimemapping.com). Besides data collection, Victoria Police can use also use the app to easily spread updates to app users to promote safety awareness and crime prevention. Examples include alerts about repeat thefts in a particular area, or information about missing persons.
Const. Mike Russell demonstrated the app at a ViaTEC presser two weeks ago. It’s slick and user-friendly, amenable to anyone familiar with smartphones. It was built from scratch for both Android and iOS—currently only iOS is supported, Android is coming soon. Data is fed into the Victoria Police Department’s DeskOfficer Online Reporting System (DORS), and data is never handled by any third party, not even by MobilePD. DORS was introduced for the Victoria PD two years ago by Coplogic.
As with any relatively new use of technology, there are a few reasons to be cautious with the VicPD app. One important concern is the potential for bogus reports: how would the department handle a deluge of spam? Const. Russell has it under control: “We haven’t had a large number of bogus or misleading reports. We avoid this through two steps. Firstly, we require a real-world email address from each complainant. Secondly, each online report is reviewed by our Communications Department Supervisor.”
Have MobilePD and the Victoria Police Department properly ensured users’ privacy? Can they track your clandestine trips to the 420 circle, or find your Batcave? Russell believes privacy is about relationships: “Privacy protection is about trust,” he says. “Trust, but verify” is the motto. The VicPD app was subject to a Privacy Impact Assessment and is compliant with all privacy protection laws, so you’re safer than Angela Merkel. The data is stored in Canada and is never routed internationally.
Anonymous data will be available at the Victoria Police Department’s website (http://www.vicpd.ca) for use by researchers or other interested parties.