Columbus, Ohio, PD to Build New Tool to Deliver Alerts

The city council approved a $72,000 contract for a smartphone app that will push information directly to residents.

by Rick Rouan, The Columbus Dispatch / July 31, 2018

(TNS) — Columbus police soon will send crime and traffic alerts straight to your smartphone.

The Columbus City Council approved a $72,000 contract on Monday with MobilePD to create a smartphone app that will send push notifications, allow users to submit crime tips and directly communicate with police officers.

The council, at its Monday meeting, also approved changes to how Columbus awards incentives for residential developments and new regulations for short-term rentals such as Airbnb.

Police now use social media to send information to the public, but Quinlan said that is limited by whether someone is using the social media platform when the information goes out. The MobilePD app will allow the department to send push notifications directly to cellphones.

The version of the app in Austin, Texas, allows users to submit crime tips, either anonymously or with a name attached. Columbus Deputy Chief Thomas Quinlan said that could be useful if a tipster doesn't want to call attention to themselves when submitting information.

Police also will be able to send information back to people. Crime maps and other resources also will be available in the app.

The contract with MobilePD is for three years and includes training, he said. It will take about three months of development before the app is launched in the fall.

The newly approved rules for short-term rentals — such as through Airbnb — also would support affordable housing using a portion of the registration fee that "hosts" would pay the city starting Jan. 1. The ordinance leaves it up to the director of the Department of Public Safety to set that fee.

Under the new rules for short-term rentals, hosts would have to provide proof of insurance and contact information to the city and maintain four years worth of records that show guest names, room rates and the dates and durations of stays. Both the hosts and Airbnb and other rental companies would face misdemeanor fines of up to $250 for a first offense.

Rental companies also must collect and pay a 10 percent tax on rentals, the same as the city levies on hotel rooms. However, the legislation does not cap the number of days that hosts can rent their property.

"We have no regulation in place. This sets a standard and foundation where we can work with public health and public safety to address concerns as they arise," Councilman Michael Stinziano said.

Will Burns, Midwest policy director for Airbnb, said in a statement that the rental company fully supported the new law. Columbus is Airbnb's top market in Ohio, with some 700 hosts at least once within the last year and some 58,000 guest arrivals in 2017, many during weekends of Ohio State home football games and other big events, the company said in the statement.

©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.