Friday, May 25, 2018
Public safety

Law enforcement smartphone apps inform residents, help solve crimes

TAMPA — In a high-tech effort to battle crime, the Tampa Police Department recently launched a free smartphone app.

With a few clicks, city residents can submit anonymous tips to police and learn about unsolved crimes and "most wanted" criminals on their iPhones or Androids.

They also can upload photos, serial numbers and descriptions of valuable items — such as electronics — which can be immediately emailed to police if they are stolen.

About 1,000 people have downloaded the app since it was launched last month. Police get an average of three tips a day through it, said police Chief Jane Castor.

"The most common ones are about drug activity at a particular house or location," Castor said. "We also get them in reference to neighborhood issues, speeding and illegal parking."

For emergencies, police still want residents to dial 911. But the app is another method for delivering nonemergency tips, which can be anonymous. The agency can access the tips 24/7 and hopes they will help solve crimes.

"Social media is the way that people are communicating these days, and we just thought this was the next step," Castor said.

The app's framework was built by Cloudspace Mobile, a California company that partnered with local designers at Fast Forward Marketing. The Tampa police app was Cloudspace's first such job in the Florida market, so it did the work for free, Castor said.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has a similar app that cost $14,000 — paid for by crime prevention funds.

Fast Forward Media president Bill Todd, who is the son of retired Tampa police Sgt. Bill Todd, says he enjoys working on law enforcement projects and thinks apps soon will be a big deal for agencies nationwide. He says his company is already talking with another local law enforcement agency.

"Nobody leaves their house without their phone," Todd said. "And now people can take a picture of something suspicious … something small that they may not have called 911 for."

Castor's favorite feature is the "my inventory" link, where users can upload photos and information about their valuables. That will help detectives as they look for stolen items, especially those without serial numbers, such as jewelry.

The TampaPD app will have two new features within the next few months: a sexual predator map, so anyone can look up the registered offenders and predators in their neighborhood, and a list of "calls for service," much like the list available on the city's website, which contains the block numbers and a brief description of each police call.

The app currently has a directory of police phone numbers and links to each school's resource officer's name and contact information. There are links to the Police Department's social media sites, a list of unsolved crimes and news releases and some frequently asked questions.

While a lot of the information already is available online, Castor said this "one-stop shop" should make it easier for residents to get involved with the department.

"The advances in technology just over the last decade have been incredible," said Castor, 53. "And to me, the ability to launch an app is miraculous. It really is all about the idea that anything you need from the Tampa police, you can go and find it in this particular app."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Jessica Vander Velde at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

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