POLITICS

Toronto Crime Stoppers hopes smartphone app takes bite out of crime

07/04/2012 05:30 EDT | Updated 09/03/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - A Toronto police and Crime Stoppers smartphone app that lets users anonymously report crimes at the touch of a button is believed to be the first of its kind in North America.

Toronto police said they expect its use will quickly spread to other jurisdictions across Canada and the United States.

It will give police far more resources than traditional telephone tips to Crime Stoppers, said app developer Steve Nesbitt with Cellflare.

"A video tip and a picture tip (are) worth a thousand words, versus somebody phoning in and, you know, briefly describing the situation they just saw," Nesbitt said.

The app includes interactive features that enable Toronto-area residents to alert police in real time about a crime or potential crime through photos, video, emails, text, and a button that autodials Crime Stoppers.

The value of Crime Stoppers is in the ability to report crimes without fear of being identified, and the app will still ensure anonymity, said Const. Martin Douglas, a Toronto Crime Stoppers youth and social media officer.

The app does not collect emails, phone numbers, names or locations. When people submit a tip, they are provided a unique ID and password that they can use to communicate with Toronto Crime Stoppers, and vice versa.

People can opt to use — or not to use — GPS when they download the app.

Crime Stoppers hopes bystanders will "feel more empowered to be socially responsible and take action," Douglas said.

The app went into action last week, and it already has 1,000 downloads. Crime Stoppers currently receives more than 200 anonymous tips each week.

The app also includes a database of some of city's wanted criminals, social media updates and a GPS locator to nearby police stations.

"Whether it's schoolyard bullying, drug abuse or shootings, we need Toronto's residents to step up and help keep our neighbourhoods safe with information on criminal misconduct," said Toronto Crime Stoppers chairman Gary Grant.

"Ultimately we have a responsibility to look out for each other."