Baltimore police launch mobile app for submitting tips, receiving alerts

Reporting crime in Baltimore? Now there's an app for that.

The Baltimore Police Department on Monday launched a mobile app that allows residents to submit crime tips, receive alerts and peruse other department data and information — calling it a "one stop shop" for city residents looking to engage with the department.

"We think that this will assist in both the crime fight and our interactions with everyday citizens," said Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. "Our goal is to make it easy and simplistic for people to connect."

Through the app, residents will be able to make anonymous tips, and even engage in dialogue with an officer. Davis said the app will be constantly monitored, and tips related to homicides or nonfatal shootings will be given priority.

He said tips to the department increased 174 percent in 2016 over 2015 after the launch of an anonymous text-to-tip line — 443-902-4824 — and he hopes the app will continue growing the amount of information the department receives from the community.

The app also provides access to the department's Facebook and Twitter pages, the state's court records page, city crime data, the department's website and other information.

The Police Department recently agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice to usher in sweeping reforms, including to its communications with the public. Officials did not link the launch of the app to the federal consent decree process, though they touted it using the catchphrase "Transparency at Your Fingertips."

The app, available for download on Apple and Android devices, was developed for the department by the company Mobile PD, which works with about 100 other agencies across the country and in Canada, officials said. The department paid the company $10,000 to develop the app and $20,000 for a two-year subscription to the software, said T.J. Smith, a police spokesman.

Smith cautioned that the app is not intended to replace 911, which residents should still call immediately if there is an emergency or a crime in progress.

After the first two years, the department will pay the company $15,000 a year. It will also pay $99 and $25 annually for the app to appear in the Apple and Android app stores, respectively, Smith said.

Davis said the administration of Mayor Catherine Pugh is fully behind the launch of the app and the drive toward greater transparency. He cited studies that have shown more Americans are getting more of their news from mobile phones.

Kushyar Kasraie, CEO of Mobile PD, said versions of the app are being used by police departments in Austin, St. Louis, Toronto and elsewhere. But Baltimore — which has the eighth-largest police department in the country — is "by far the largest police force in the country launching this application, and we believe this will spur many other law enforcement agencies to follow their lead."

He said the app is "all about improving transparency" and has led to positive results in other cities, including assisting in finding missing people and in solving major drug cases.

"I really look forward to seeing the same positive results here," he said.

Smith said the department would "continuously evaluate" how the app is working for the department.

Some users expressed concerns Monday about prompts in the Android app asking for access to their pictures, location and other data. Smith said such access is routinely requested by mobile apps to support their features, such as the one in the police department app that allows users to send police pictures within their phones.

Smith said there is "no monitoring going on by the department to anyone that downloads the app."

krector@baltsun.com

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