TAMPA — One day in August, an 86-year-old Tampa woman named Myrtle Sellers had her wallet stolen as she caroused the aisles of a local thrift store. After she reported the crime, police examined surveillance videos from the store and found images of a man and a woman who snatched the wallet from Sellers' purse as it hung from the handle of her walker.
Police took to social media, posting the video on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere in the hope that the public might offer tips to identify the thieves.
They did, police said. A few weeks after the theft, tips from people who saw the video led authorities to arrest 41-year-old Mary Carter.
Now, police hope the same crime fighting success will repeat itself as they unveil the TampaPD mobile app. The smartphone application, dubbed TampaPD, is a free download that gives citizens access to a wealth of information about the city's police department. It also will help the cops solicit tips about unsolved crime and wanted people.
"Myrtle Sellers is an outstanding example of how well this works," Tampa police Chief Jane Castor said in a news conference Tuesday. "Our relationship with the community is the cornerstone of our crime reduction success."
Tampa police worked with California-based company Cloud Space Mobile to develop the TampaPD application. The company created the app at no cost, seeing the project as a way to gain a foothold in the Florida marketplace, Castor said.
Among other functions, the app allows Tampa residents to create a list of their property, which can then be forwarded to detectives if it gets stolen. They can also look up the name of their local school resource officer or receive alerts about major emergencies in their area.
But the app's chief value is as a crime-fighting tool, Castor said. From their smartphones, citizens can read about crimes within the city and provide tips. One function allows people to submit information anonymously using a secure server, which not even the police can access, Castor said.
The hope is that more people than ever will be able to put eyes on things like the surveillance video from the theft of Sellers' wallet. The more people who look, the more tips will be submitted and crimes will be solved faster.
"Without a doubt, this speeds up the investigative process," Castor said.