Another tool to report – and fight – crime is already in your pocket.
Knowing that, the Marion Police Department recently decided to take action in the form of the new iWatch Marion app, downloadable for free on Apple and Android devices.
“Everybody’s got their phone on them,” Lt. Andrew Moss said. “If they see a crime happen, they can send the information to the Police Department.”
Moss said the application will be good for times when people see something suspicious, but maybe don’t think the incident is worth bothering dispatchers.
“But it might be important to us,” he said.
For example, Moss said, someone might see someone new in their neighborhood, but none of their things have gone missing. Maybe their neighbors have reported theft, though, and so reporting the sighting or disturbance through the app could help police put the pieces together and stop the burglaries.
Tips reported through the app go through the iWatch servers and then are emailed to the appropriate officer based on the category of the tip. People also can send photos or videos they take with their phones.
Moss said he hopes the app will appeal to younger people who are likely to use their phones frequently, and that they text in tips about bullying and other problems.
“There are several things that have gone on, that I think had that [the app] been out there, it would’ve been useful,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times someone said, ‘Well, I didn’t think it was anything’ and didn’t call the police.”
The app also is a two-way communicator, and people can sign up for text alerts for weather, school closings, missing children, crime alerts and other items.
But it is not a substitute for 911 – emergencies still should be called in, as it could take officers a while to respond to texted tips, Moss said.
Moss said the Marion Police Department is the only one in the state using the iWatch app. Nearby Sullivan County offers a service through TipSoft by which people can text tips to the Sheriff’s Office, which go to emails, like the Marion software.
The Marion Police Department is paying for the program, which is free to the public, through a grant, Moss said. When the grant money runs out, the department will assess the program and decide whether to keep it running.
“If it solves one crime, if it helps somebody out, it’s paid for itself,” he said.
He said the program might be something that will extend out into Smyth County.
“For me, this is a little more far-reaching that even Neighborhood Watch, because this goes all over the place,” Moss said. “You can get reports anytime, anywhere.”