San Diego Tipster App Expands Reporting Capabilities

From illegal car washing to code violations, city officials hope the newly-expanded mobile app will lead to timelier nuisance resolution.

by David Garrick, The San Diego Union-Tribune / October 17, 2017

(TNS) -- San Diego will expand and upgrade its tipster app so residents can report more types of nuisances and get detailed feedback on how reported problems were resolved.

Among the new problems the Get it Done! app will handle are illegal car washing, broken trash cans, missed pick-ups by city trash trucks and sanitation hazards such as linked to the spread of the local hepatitis A outbreak.

The app will also start taking reports of broken water meter covers and violations of city codes, which could eventually include quality-of-life issues like excessive noise. There will also be the ability to report suspicious activity potentially related to terrorism.

Residents will also be able to make appointments for things like getting a passport or disposing of hazardous waste.

And they will get more detailed descriptions of how and when city officials resolved some types of complaints the app already allows residents to report, such as dead animals and illegal dumping of trash or large items.

"You want to know it got cleaned up when somebody dumped a mattress or a TV," said Almis Udrys, who has spearheaded implementation of the app as director of the city’s Performance and Analytics Department.

Since being launched as a pilot project in May 2016, the app has mostly been used to report potholes, graffiti and abandoned vehicles.

Other nuisances frequently reported through the app include broken street lights, malfunctioning stoplights, damaged sidewalks, fallen trees, damaged curbs and street signs in need of repair.

More than 28,000 people have downloaded the app and the city has received more than 160,000 nuisance reports.

The average was about 6,000 per month until potholes blamed on last winter’s rains more than doubled that to 14,000 in January. Reports dropped after that to about 12,000 per month and have remained steadily there since.

Udrys said he thinks potholes prompted people to seek the app out and many have stuck with it since.

City officials say the app has helped accelerate resolution of nuisance problems and made city employees more efficient because it allows tipsters to precisely locate a nuisance.

The upgrade and expansion is needed because the app doesn’t allow reporting of some key nuisances, and because software limitations force the city to send only a “closed” message to people who report some types of problems.

The upgraded app will allow a detailed response of how and when the problem was resolved and possibly a picture of the location since the city completed the work.

In cases where the problem wasn’t resolved for a particular reason or will be resolved at some time in the future, users of the app will get a message explaining that.

"Sometimes you are not able to just fix everything,” said Udrys. “It could be a sidewalk project where you know there's a larger scale project in a few months and we're going to do it then."

Such responses won’t be provided to people who report problems the city must refer to other agencies, such as the port district or San Diego Gas & Electric.

Udrys said the city hopes to someday create a system all local agencies could use together.

The upgrade will cost the city $2 million for software upgrades and double the cost of annual software licensing from $200,000 to $400,000. Annual maintenance costs are expected to remain at about $200,000, officials said.

The City Council this week unanimously approved a new contract that will cover the upgrades.

"I think this is something that will only help our city improve and help our citizens better engage with City Hall to get things done," Councilman Mark Kersey said.

On hepatitis, Councilman Chris Ward said business owners are using the app to report places “where there might be some excrement or other need for attention," but said it’s crucial to directly allow reporting of sanitation hazards.

Tipsters can technically report anything in the app already, but the expansion and upgrade will funnel those requests immediately to the appropriate city department.

"I think we have a little ways to go to unleash the total power of this," Ward said.

Residents can report the same problems handled by the app on the city’s website.

©2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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