southtownstar
ENERGETIC 
Weather Updates

Kadner: Smartphone crime-fighting app in Dolton

Updated: November 10, 2013 6:32AM



Want to fight crime with your smartphone? There’s an app for that.

Dolton announced Tuesday that its police department will become the first in the nation to use iALERTU, an application that allows residents to anonymously report crime in real time.

In addition, smartphone users in Dolton who download the app will be able to send video and photographs, as well as text, to police who will be able to detect their location using GPS technology.

During a news conference, Police Chief John Franklin said he believes the app will create “stronger bonds with the community to solve common issues that impact greatly on the quality of life in Dolton.”

Later, the chief told me that the app’s creator, Victoria Shannon, of NEXX Business Solutions in Chicago, called him to pitch a pilot program to Dolton at no initial cost to the village.

“We’re always trying to use whatever technology is available to fight crime,” Franklin said. “There are people who are afraid to use 911 to report crime for fear that they will be identified or that their call will later be broadcast on TV or radio and their voice will be recognized and they will be identified.

“This will be anonymous, and we expect more people will be willing to use it.”

A computer provided by iAlertU is at the police station, according to the chief, and the local-access cable TV channel in the village has been telling residents how to use it.

Mayor Riley Rogers said he was excited by the idea of being the “only town in the United States” offering the technology to its residents.

Shannon told me that although the app can be downloaded by anyone, it will only be useful to Dolton residents who are given a special access code by the village.

While I initially was skeptical about the idea, a village resident at the news conference said, “Have you ever seen a teenager without a smartphone? They all have them. In fact, they ought to be contacting the schools to make sure every child knows how to use it.”

It turns out Shannon has reached out to Thornton Township High School District 205.

“I’m going to be presenting the idea to our board at (Wednesday’s) meeting,” said District 205 school board president Ken Williams, who attended the news conference. “I think it has a lot of practical applications in the schools.

“For one thing, we have a lot of bullying in the schools, and this would help us get a handle on that. But there are other problems that it could also address. I think it’s an interesting idea.”

Shannon, a Chicago resident, said she contacted Dolton because she had a child who went to school there. She also has been in contact with the Chicago Police Department, attempting to persuade its officials of the app’s worth in encouraging more people to report crime.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily something that will result in crimes being prevented,” she told me, “but I think it could help the police catch more criminals.

“Just the fact that criminals know it is out there might prevent a crime. Anyone with a smartphone could be taking their photograph or a videotape and sending it to police.”

Of course, that could be happening now, with or without the iALERTU app. The big difference is that police could have access to a video or photograph as the crime is being committed, or seconds later.

But will police actually be watching the iALERTU computer for information that’s coming in from citizens?

“We have someone already assigned to monitoring 911 calls who will also be watching the iALERT system,” Franklin said. “There will be an alarm or chime that goes off whenever a text message, photograph or video comes in on the system, so they can look at it immediately and determine if it requires further attention.”

It seemed to me that an app like this one would be subject to abuse and pranks.

People use YouTube to promote hoaxes all the time, and I can’t
help believing that some people would get quite a kick out of watching a bunch of police show up to a crime scene that was completely staged.

“We get that sort of thing all the time,” the chief said. “We had a call about domestic abuse going on at a house across from the police station recently, and we went running out of here and arrived at the home and the people were sitting on the porch without a care in the world.

“That’s just part of everyday life if you’re a police officer.”

Maybe. But people on smartphones really seem to enjoy making stuff up in the hope that their video will go viral and be seen by the entire world.

On the other hand, police have trouble getting citizens to report crime these days, and if a smartphone app helps, well, that would be a good thing.

Shannon said the computer equipment in Dolton is being paid for by a “sponsor” but refused to identify the sponsor.

Eventually, there would be a cost for the equipment and the technology, and she’s hoping that Dolton’s pilot program will prove to other police departments that it’s worth whatever that price might be.

No one seems to be worried about privacy or civil liberties issues.

But since video cameras began appearing on light posts, at traffic signals and outside storefronts, the public seems to have adopted the attitude that the more eyes watching the better for law-abiding citizens.

It will be interesting to see how the experiment in Dolton plays out and if any criminals there send videos to police of themselves committing crimes.

That’s already happening on YouTube, and more than one culprit has found himself behind bars as a result.

“We want to be known as a professional police department that’s using every means at its disposal to reduce crime and improve the lives of our citizens,” Franklin said. “That’s what this is about.”



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.