West Virginia has released an app that is the natural evolution to anonymous tip lines. The app works to allow concerned citizens to report on crimes happening around them. This app has some issues, but seems to be the logical jump for police agencies.
The app is called Suspicious Activity Reporting Application. It allows its users to snap a photo with their smartphones. The app then reports the GPS location of the phone at that point in time, so if a user sends out a report the responding agency will know when, where and what to look for. This means that a concerned neighbor could report any crime no matter how insignificant. The app is available for the various flavors of Android and for iOS.
The App was created in part by the cooperation of a number of government agencies including the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center. This app gives law enforcement yet another tool to reach out to the community and effectively police it from afar. The app allows police to get information that they may not get otherwise, because they can not be everywhere at once, and the more information they have, the better.
While this app provides citizens a way to interact with the police in a swift and effective manner, there are opportunities for the app to be abused. The app gives users the ability to report crime anonymously. This means that the app may become subject to feuds, meaning parties could report fictitious crimes to police with little to no consequence for their actions. Another concern is if the app is over-used it could lead to officers being constantly on call for minor issues like wasting their time ticketing illegally parked vehicles. There is also the issue of privacy. This app could allow citizens to work as agents of the police, tantamount to enabling the police to work around a need for a warrant to search a premises by giving them probable cause to enter a building.
The issue of fictitious crime reporting could be handled by having a dedicated dispatcher who sorts through the reports made through the app and order them in urgency and severity as well as the quality of the information provided. The dispatcher could contact an officer near the GPS coordinates given who could investigate less urgent reports when they have the time to do so. The privacy concern is one that will have to be handled by the courts. They will be the ones who determine if the app provides undue influence onto citizens and provides a loophole for officers.