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Can Subscription Software Help Fix Community Policing?

ITsimple’s newest product aims to provide what amounts to a mobile safe space for residents and law enforcement to interact. The launch of the tools comes amid recent hurdles for many community policing efforts.

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As police and sheriffs’ departments work to build stronger ties with residents — ties often damaged by the pandemic and recent political turmoil — a young company based near Atlanta hopes to use subscription software to help with that task.

ITsimple is among the latest to launch a SaaS service based around the concept of strengthening community policing. Its new cloud-based CityGuards product is a mobile tool designed to enable police and fire departments to better communicate with residents.

Officials can distribute news and info about offenders, crime trends, safety and community events, for instance, while residents can share about crimes and concerns. The general idea is to provide a place away from traditional social media that is focused on local areas and which allows residents a measure of privacy or anonymity when engaged with law enforcement and first responders.

As well, the CityGuards tool is also meant to provide all that information — fire hazard tips and offender lists are among the other data the product can provide — without requiring residents to click through multiple web pages, said Ron Freeman, founder and CEO of the company, which he started in 2017.

In consumer terms, Freeman aims to reduce friction between residents and their local public safety agencies. That broader mission, which motivates his work with ITsimple, came about when he moved and found that information about his new hometown was too widely distributed on digital channels for his tastes.

“I wanted to simplify daily life,” said Freeman, who worked on cybersecurity efforts for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, among other jobs, before starting ITsimple. “We are flying into space. Why can’t we do this?”

COMMUNITY POLICING PROBLEMS


The company, which also sells other local engagement software products, launched its new offering as local law enforcement agencies struggle to build or keep ties with communities ravaged by COVID-19, and during the ongoing Black Lives Matter and “defund the police” movements. Protective efforts against the virus curbed many community outreach efforts by police — regularly scheduled public meetings, for instance — and the political tensions reduced the trust among many officers and citizens.

A report from Pew earlier in the pandemic described some of those challenges, with officers and other law enforcement experts blaming the pandemic for erecting new “barriers” between police and the people they serve. Rebuilding those efforts have become increasingly important to many around law enforcement. In fact, a report earlier this year from the American Bar Association about creating more trust includes one recommendation that would seem to favor the technology offered by ITsimple and other companies in the space.

That report advises public safety agencies to provide “communities with a direct, ongoing voice in their police agencies by involving community members in the review and development of departmental policies and procedures.”

Traditionally, that has often been via face-to-face methods. But a recent report from Northwestern University about developments in a two-year-old effort to boost community policing in Chicago illustrates the current challenges of such efforts even amid some positive gains.

“Several factors might have set back those interactions, like the pandemic, Chicago’s high rates of shootings and gun deaths, George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests, all of which strained police-community relations,” the report stated. “Though researchers found no significant impact on crime or on residents’ trust in the police or their perceptions of safety, they note that in addition to the challenges already mentioned, the program had a small rollout.”

As those challenges persist, Freeman wants to sell technology to departments that better reflect where citizens are often most active — and will likely remain most active well after pandemic restrictions lift.

“Everything runs on mobile these days,” he said.

That, however, presents its own potential challenges.

“Mobile development is more complicated than web development,” he said, in part because apps accepted into the big mobile stores operated by Google and Apple must undergo review from “the big boys.”

Better, more efficient community engagement is not the only selling point for such software. California-based Esri, which develops ArcGIS, launched what it calls a Police Transparency solution during the pandemic that helps public safety agencies share more data with residents, and otherwise beef up community engagement efforts, via an online hub.

As for Freeman, he said that San Bernardino, Calif., and Brookhaven, Ga., are already using the CityGuards software, with more clients to come.

“With COVID-19, who knew community engagement would become so important?” he said.
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in New Orleans.
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