Crime-Reporting App Could Give Pittsburgh Citizens a Gateway into Police Bureau

Legislation introduced this week would authorize the city and the police bureau to partner with telecommunications firm Optivon Inc. to license the app and software for no more than $10,000.

by Molly Born, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / June 25, 2015
Pittsburgh, Pa. Flickr/Jaime Dillen-Seibel

(TNS) -- The creator of a mobile app credited with helping to reduce crime in Puerto Rico may come to Pittsburgh this fall to explore the possibility of developing a similar program here, city Councilman Ricky Burgess said.

Burgess introduced legislation this week that would authorize the city and the police bureau to partner with Puerto Rican telecommunications firm Optivon Inc. to license a crime-reporting app and software for no more than $10,000.

Luis Romero, Optivon’s owner, created the program that allows users to anonymously report suspected crimes after the 2011 murder of his 20-year-old son. Users can choose the icon that best represents the crime, including aggravated assault, rape and animal abuse; select the date and time of the incident; write a description; and include video or audio.

Available in Spanish and English, the program touts that the reports sent through the app are managed by actual officers of the Puerto Rico police department.

Burgess views the app as another step in the city’s efforts to improve the relationship between community and police. With the app, “the average citizen would have a gateway directly into the bureau,” he said.

The anti-crime organization Romero founded after his son’s death and the app — which has been downloaded on the island about 40,000 times and used to send in more than 4,000 tips — are called “Basta Ya PR,” which means “enough is enough, Puerto Rico.”

Mainland interest in the app led him to open an office in Florida. So far, the company has developed apps for two cities in Kentucky, with others elsewhere in the works. Romero said Burgess called him during a recent trip to the island, and the two met to discuss bringing the app to Pittsburgh.

John DeCarlo, associate professor and police studies coordinator at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, said it’s difficult to know the efficacy of crime-reporting apps.

“We haven’t collected enough data yet to determine a return on investment,” he said.

But Romero cited a current murder rate half that of 2011, and an overall reduction in violent crime, and believes the app played a role.

“If you add thousands of police [officers] to the police force, it’s still not enough. The community gets together with the police, then the problem is solved,” he said.

Burgess said he’s meeting with police Chief Cameron McLay and the bureau’s IT team next week to discuss the feasibility of the program.

The police bureau did not respond to requests for comment via a spokeswoman.

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