iWatch Lynwood App Helps Lynwood Illinois Police enter ‘new age’ for community policing

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Lynwood Police Chief Michael Mears shows off a new program for crime fighting in which an app for smart phones allows people to report crimes by sending video or audio directly to dispatchers, while he was at the police station in Lynwood IL on Tuesday May 1, 2012.

Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

Would-be wrongdoers who are considering committing a crime in Lynwood may think twice, thanks to a new software application the police department soon will be rolling out.

Another option is to smile for the camera as they are caught in the act.

Using a new free app, nearly anyone with a smart phone who witnesses a crime will be able to send text messages, photos or videos to the Lynwood Police Department even as the crime is being committed.

A number of cities nationwide are using the application, and Lynwood Police Chief Michael Mears envisions a day when other Southland communities get the software, “and we could all share data and info in real time,” he said.

“It’s basically the new age for community policing,” said Mears, who expects to launch the program in Lynwood soon.

Anybody with a smart phone, iPhone, Blackberry or Android can download iWatch — the free app — from their app store and start sending in crime reports, he said. Reports also can be sent from a home computer.

Even reports that involve public works issues — such as stop signs being knocked down or faulty streetlights — will be accepted. But to Mears, it’s more about reporting crimes and having more eyes and ears on the streets.

“This is a no-brainer for me,” he said. “It not only involves policing, but it involves the whole community.”

Lynwood is the first community in Illinois to offer the program. After a set-up fee of $1,000, the village will pay $70 monthly for the service, Mears said.

Tips received will be steered toward the proper recipient. For example, a tip about a narcotics crime would go to detectives; a tip about an officer acting unprofessionally would go to internal affairs.

The app, Mears said, makes it easier for police to collect information from a sometimes reluctant public.

“In this day and age, it’s hard to get information from the public. They now have the opportunity to give us information anonymously, if they choose, or with their name,” he said.

Mears said the app won’t create a “Big Brother” atmosphere because, to some extent, it’s already been done.

“Everybody has to be cognizant they’re on camera now whenever they’re out in public — at banks, convenience stores and red lights,” he said.

Software creator Dan Elliott, of iThinQware, said nearly 70 cities and towns nationwide use the system.

Police in Bridgeport, Conn., started using it in October.

“We love it. We get four tips a day,” Lt. David Daniels said.

Anonymous tips led to arrests for two murders this year, he said.

“People can tell us what happened at their own leisure. When crimes occur, the police are hardly ever there, but the public is often there,” he said. “This is the best thing we ever did. It’s changed the way we fight crime in the city. This helps you do a lot more because everybody has a smart phone in their pocket.”

In Bridgeport, population 143,000, about 1,000 residents have downloaded the app, Daniels said.

Mears won’t be asking Lynwood residents to act as police officers.

“This gives more reason not to,” he said. “You can ultimately use the power of your phone. Instead of getting into a confrontation, you capture what’s going on, send it and drive away.

“I need to stress this is not a 911 reporting system. This is for tips. If there is a heated domestic argument going on, we don’t want someone getting stabbed doing this. This is for observation. It will be monitored by dispatch, but by no means does it take precedent over the 911 operations.”

The Cook County Sheriff’s Department is familiar with the app, thinks Lynwood will benefit from it and is interested in a variation of the app, spokeswoman Brittney Blair said.

“Community policing is a huge priority for us in Cook County.” she said.

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