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Voice-Activated App Notifies 911 While Collecting Evidence

One Texas school district is adopting the My eBodyGuard app, which victims of violence or bullying can quietly voice activate to record an incident as it is happening and, if necessary, command the app to call the cops.

Black and white image of a person sitting on the stairs with their head on their knees in distress.
When Round Rock Independent School District Police Chief Dennis Weiner was looking for a tool to provide to some of the most vulnerable students and citizens in his Texas community, he was lucky to have made the acquaintance of Melissa Faith Hart.

Hart used her law enforcement knowledge and awareness of the experiences of victims of domestic violence, bullying and the like to develop the My eBodyGuard program and app. The platform allows users to record an incident both visually and with audio, and to store the information, as well as send an alert to 911 with a simple voice command to a smartphone.

“We were looking for an engagement platform to connect with the community in a way that would help us build trust and help protect the most vulnerable in our community,” Weiner said. “So I came across this platform and [Hart] introduced me to what she had been working on, and I found it to be quite a bit in line with what we were looking to achieve.”

The platform is used for a variety of situations, including supplying parents of vulnerable children or the children themselves with the app in case an incident occurs.

The parents or kids carry a smartphone loaded with the eBodyGuard app and use a voice command to activate it when being bullied. If the bullying continued and became a critical situation, the child can inform authorities, who automatically receive all of the information collected by the app during previous incidents as well as the location of the activation.

The platform could be useful to victims of domestic violence who are exposed to repeated abuse and for whom calling 911 in the heat of the moment may be dangerous. With the app and a smartphone tucked away in a pocket or purse, the victim could quietly voice activate it and record the incident as it is happening; if necessary, they could tell the app to call the cops with a voice command such as, “eBodyGuard call 911,” rather than going through the process of a manual phone call to emergency services.

“Say a spouse is being abused,” Weiner said. “She has the ability to take photographs of injuries without engaging law enforcement right away and they are time stamped, and she can journal what happened. Maybe three, four times down the road finally she decides she needs to do something and this data is all there and usable to law enforcement.”

Weiner said the app can be made available to groups, such as child advocacy organizations or even the entire district population. “We’re trying to engage the community on this, and some of it is around privacy concerns, but that’s why having all these compliance credentials is very important.”

Those privacy concerns are eased, he said, by the platform’s compliance with HIPAA and the FBI’s CJIS, as well as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Hart said she had a vision one day as she was paying for parking at a meter in Denver. She thought as she focused on paying, anyone could come up and snatch her purse rather easily. “You can only do one thing at a time,” she said. “You can’t defend yourself, especially as a single woman.”

She saw the idea through to what is now a public safety app being used by individuals in every state around the country and by 10 law enforcement agencies so far. The use case for the platform is sexual assault, something that Hart is unlucky enough to be familiar with. “I thought sexual assault would be a really strong use case since I had an experience with sexual assault when I was 21.”

“In today’s world and level of crime, you could walk down the street having put eBodyGuard on before you went out, voice activate it and know you’re prioritized to 911,” Hart said. “Then later [after an incident] you go to the eBodyGuard portal and type in what happened and you get to add your additional notes and documents — your camera was already there, the call to 911 was already there and you now feel, ‘OK, it’s captured, and I know it went to the police.’”

Individuals can download the app for $3.99 a month on Google Play or the Apple App Store.