(TNS) — If the future is a place in which citizens connect to law enforcement with the touch of a button, then it might already be here.
Apple Valley Watch, a public safety app that allows users to "Report a Problem" from their smartphones, was soft launched by the town earlier this month. It's the brainchild of Town Council member Barb Stanton, who called the app an attempt to usher public safety "into the 21st century."
"The idea here is to give us a tool to make our lives a little bit safer and a little bit easier," Stanton told the public during the Jan. 9 Town Council meeting.
Available for download on iPhone and Android mobile devices, Apple Valley Watch's main feature allows users the option to photograph or video an incident, provide report details and select the report type from a 14-option list that includes suspicious activity and vandalism.
The incident's location is also selectable from a list of mostly public spaces such as Town Hall, the chamber of commerce or the golf course.
Users can choose to remain anonymous before a report is sent. Town and San Bernardino County, Calif., Sheriff's Apple Valley Station staff monitor the app and status updates are sent once available, according to town documents.
A second feature allows users to call the local 911 dispatch center, but Apple Valley Sheriff's Station Capt. Frank Bell cautioned that the app should be seen only as a tool for non-emergency situations because — at least from the law enforcement side — it will not be constantly monitored.
"We just don't have the resources, although I wish we could," Bell said. "We had hoped that it would be something dispatch could monitor, but all the stations up here — and stations from the Nevada and Arizona borders all the way to the Barstow Sheriff's Station — are dispatched out of the center in Hesperia. Needless to say, they don't have the ability to monitor the app."
Bell said the plan is to have between three and five officials monitoring the app during normal business hours, including a watch commander, which the station has on duty at all times.
"So it's not intended for somebody that's witnessing an in-progress crime," Bell said. "This app is the wrong place to do that. It's for folks in Apple Valley to communicate with us in a little different fashion when it comes to vandalism, graffiti at the parks or repeated traffic issues in their neighborhoods. It's a non-emergency format. If you need a deputy to come out and take a report, this app is not the way to go. Call the business line (at 760-240-7400)."
Still, Bell said he liked Apple Valley Watch as "another way for the public to keep in touch with us." He said only one incident had been reported — for illegal dumping — since the soft launch, but he viewed the app as part of "the next generation of dispatch."
"We already have text to 911, not through this app, but dispatch centers had to quickly adapt to and be able to accept that type of information in that fashion," he said. "If everybody likes it, other cities may get apps and all these people will want someone monitoring this stuff on a regular basis. So the future is going to be a different dispatch center than what we had 20 years ago."
And for Stanton, that's the goal. She said she envisions similar apps catching on as other communities "see the value."
"To a town, to save one life or stop something, it's priceless," Stanton told the Daily Press. "Every community can afford this. A year from now there will be many communities who will be logging on."
Speaking of cost, the town entered into a contract with ELERTS Corporation for development, which Assistant Town Manager Nikki Salas said cost $10,000. A service subscription comes with an annual $8,915 price tag.
The idea for the app originated with Victor Valley Transit Authority's (VVTA) Safe Haven program, which morphed into VVTA Watch, another app spearheaded by Stanton that launched last July. She said she thought "about our neighborhoods" while looking into providing a similar experience for residents.
"I believe this app may be something that sets Apple Valley apart in keeping people safer," she said. "There's not another city or town in this state that have this type of app. They have similar apps, but nothing that allows you to report incidents directly."
Stanton first mentioned the app publicly during Apple Valley's State of the Town event last August. Salas said town staff began working with ELERTS 6 in September after a contract was signed by then interim Town Manager Lori Lamson.
"It took approximately two months from the initial meeting to begin beta testing on Android and iPhone platforms," Salas said by email. "The town will look to evolve the app to add reporting of code enforcement, animal control, and streets issues with future upgrades."
Bell said he hopes later iterations will include a non-emergency call component in addition to the 911 feature. Stanton, meanwhile, appears to be taking the all-in-due-time approach as she notes the possibilities going forward and preps for an official launch.
"We kind of left it open-ended for a couple weeks just to roll this out and make sure everyone is aware," she said. "We haven't set a real date yet."
Matthew Cabe can be reached at MCabe@VVDailyPress.com or at 760-951-6254. Follow him on Twitter @DP_MatthewCabe.
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