As of 2014, the New Castle County Police Department is going high-tech in its search for community help.
On Tuesday night at the monthly New Castle County public safety committee meeting, police officials unveiled a new app developed for smartphones and other mobile devices that they say will make the community a virtual member of their crime fighting team.
Lieutenant Richard Dunning gave a brief demonstration of some of the app's features, which include tabs for reporting a variety of crimes from drug use and sales to instances of graffiti.
Using what appears to be a relatively simple interface, Dunning said that the app essentially gives users the opportunity to report on crimes anonymously; they could provide their personal details as well, if they choose.
For example, Dunning said that when reporting on graffiti, residents can upload a photo of the location, as well as provide GPS coordinates and leave additional comments.
Dunning said the crime links correspond to specific individuals within the department with a focus on that particular area of county law enforcement.
"There's no searching for, 'well who does this go to?'" Dunning said. "If it's a graffiti request, it's going to go to Det. Missy Bell."
There are links for traffic and speeding, posting questions to Police Chief Col. Edwin Setting, and even reporting officer misconduct, among numerous others, according to Dunning.
The app also links to information on members of the department's administration as well as the New Castle County council members, similar to the information provided on the county's website.
Council member Jea Street, 10th District, called the app a powerful tool in the department's crime fighting toolbox.
"The more this gets out, the more people are going to be involved," Street said.
Council member Robert Weiner, 2nd District, said he felt that the information provided through the new app would inextricably intertwine with the department's Targeted Analytic Policing System (TAPS).
That program, introduced last spring, provides police with a detailed map of areas where "quality of life" or nuisance crimes could or routinely do occur.
"I think citizens will understand that they are 'deputies,' in a sense, to our police department, working hand in hand," Weiner said. "It doesn't work without citizen involvement, and this literally puts it at their fingertips."
Setting said that while the app was inexpensive to develop, it provides another instance where technology would be used to identify and prevent crime.
"Our victims are no longer victims – our victims are telling us that they don't want to talk to us," Setting said. "It's a dynamic that's becoming very popular."
Page 2 of 2 - He added that once citizens are given the anonymity the app provides, coupled with the fact that the app turns their mobile devices into a police radio of sorts, he felt confident that the department would have another valuable resource in preventing crime.
Captain Wendy Feeser said that Setting has tasked the department with developing and utilizing technology to better serve the county's citizens.
"We all know everyone is walking around with their phone, iPhone, Android, and they like apps," she said. "So we looked long and hard for a company that can develop an app for us."
Feeser said that while the app went live on the iTunes and Android app stores as of Dec. 17, the department is planning a more formal public unveiling early next year.
"First of the year, we're going to do a big push on this to get it out," Feeser said.
Feeser added that she hasn't encountered many similar apps for other law enforcement agencies.
"I wouldn't quote me on any actual numbers, but I've seen maybe 10, mostly in bigger cities – Boston, areas like that," she said.