School board backs iWatch app for students

Naugatuck Police to Roll Out New Crime Tip Smartphone App

iWatchNaugatuck, a new application that is expected to be available this year, allows residents to send in anonymous tips, photos and videos of criminal activity right from an iPhone, BlackBerry or Android.

The Naugatuck Police Department is expected to roll out a new initiative that will enable residents to help fight crime, and assist police with information, by simply using a smartphone.

It’s called the iWatch app, and the Board of Mayor and Burgesses voted 7-3 Tuesday to authorize the $7,000 funding necessary for one year of the program.

The application — available to download for free on the iPhones, Android phones, Blackberries and computer platforms — allows a citizen to send a text message tip regarding a criminal instance directly to the Naugatuck Police Department’s headquarters on Spring Street, said Public Information Officer Lt. Robert Harrison. iWatch also enables users to send in photos and videos, which could be used in investigating criminal situations, Harrison said.

Any information that is submitted remains anonymous, and is encrypted through the app’s provider, ThinQware, Harrison said.

Because the app allows information to flow anonymously, Harrison told the borough board it would encourage the younger generation of residents to be more open about providing tips that could assist police in criminal investigations.

“People don’t trust traditional phone lines,” Harrison told the borough board. “There is the fear that the information, unless their phone line is blocked, could be traced back to them.”

A Tool Against Bullying

iWatch is currently available in major cities across the country, including Dallas, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. It only recently became available in Connecticut when the Bridgeport Police Department rolled out its own iWatchBridgeport app back in October, which was the first time on the East Coast, according to WTNH.

But, once this app rolls out in Naugatuck, it would be a first for a municipality of 32,000 people.

During a presentation on the app before the borough board, Alan Merly, the head of information technology at Naugatuck High School, highlighted how iWatch would be particularly useful tool among students in a school setting.

“If there’s an incident of bullying, or a weapon, or drugs, this could be used to help get the information to police,” Merly told the borough board during the meeting at Town Hall.

The app also isn’t just for criminal activity. Merly said there’s an iWatch311 system in place which allows residents to report to Naugatuck police situations such as a street light that’s out or a telephone pole that may be down. Once the tip is sent in via iWatch, the police will distribute it to the proper department, such as Public Works, he said.

Concerns on Cost-Effectiveness Arise

While many of the borough board members spoke positively about the iWatch app, concerns immediately arose about the application being abused by residents. Burgess Mike Bronko noted that anonymous tips phoned in to the police department at least allow for a number to be traceable in case the tip turns out to be frivolous.

In response to this, Harrison said the police could ask the iWatch developers to red flag any people who make multiple false statements. He also said, as he understood it, there hasn’t been much abuse among police in Dallas, where the iWatch program has been in effect for some time.

A good portion of the discussion also focused on the cost-benefit analysis. Even though the app is free to download, Naugatuck would still have to pay for the iWatch system installation at the police department.

While he didn’t provide any statistics, Merly said he had previously seen some numbers provided by the company that showed a high percentage of quality leads coming through iWatch in other cities.

Still, the three burgesses that voted “nay” to the program — Ron San Angelo, Patrick Scully and Robert Burns — did so because they said they didn’t feel comfortable voting on a program like this without seeing the data on the app’s effectiveness.

“I have a hard time voting on this without seeing the statistics on how it worked for other cities,” San Angelo said. “There are other ways to spend that type of money… like putting it toward the police detective division to assist in their investigation.”

Merly said he agreed there was no need to enter a multi-year contract with ThinQware, but he said it would be good to try the iWatch app out to see how effective it could be for the community.

Giving iWatch ‘a Shot’

Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi, who also requested the statics on the cost-benefit analysis, agreed with Merly’s sentiments. Rossi noted that the app could become an effective tool to combat bullying at City Hill Middle School and Naugatuck High School. Merly said that, once the app is implemented, the incoming students at these schools will learn about it during orientation.

“It becomes very empowering for children who might not otherwise have a voice,” Merly said. “It could be a game changer, or it could level the playing field for the kids that want their school safer.”

Rossi, a member of the Juvenile Review Board in Naugatuck, said “there’s a good benefit to giving this a shot.”

“I am astounded by how much we are seeing bullying be the base point of why a good kid, who has no record, is seated before (the Juvenile Review Board),” Rossi said.

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