THE MAGAZINE

An App Approach to Crime

By Ann Longmore-Etheridge

“I was able to get funding because it saved [the college the expense of] putting up other hardwired cameras throughout the campus or more hardwired blue light phones. For the cost of a couple cameras, you can have your whole population with a camera and a GPS in their pocket,” he says.

The system works by having users download an app to their iPhones, Androids, iPads, and other devices. Any time students walking around campus feel like they are being followed by someone acting suspiciously, for example, they can just tap on the EmergenSee U icon on the screen. The device automatically begins broadcasting live video of whatever the smartphone’s built-in camera is pointed at. It also transmits live audio and the GPS coordinates of the sender.

The data being sent by the device is received by the public safety department. The dispatcher has a dedicated monitor that begins playing the video and audio feed, as well as displaying the location of the transmission on a geomap. The dispatcher then activates a texting feature to ask the student if he or she needs help. There are buttons on the device’s screen for “yes,” “no,” and “never mind,” or the student can use the text feature to send a longer message. All of the data is recorded for law enforcement use.

Universities using the product have the ability to set up a “geofence” around the area they wish to receive signals from. In Sus­quehanna’s case, the borough’s police department let the school expand the system’s coverage over the whole of the Sel­insgrove area. This way, “if a student is off campus, we still know where they are and at the same time, the dispatcher can provide the police [with] information about what the camera is showing and the messages that have been passed back and forth while the officer is en route,” Rambo, who formerly worked in law enforcement, explains. “The officer can also be looking out for a suspect…. A lot of times, when you’re going to a scene, you may pass the suspect but you didn’t have a description yet.”

The EmergenSee U system also encourages witnesses to get involved. “We really want students and faculty and staff to have a mechanism for good bystander behavior. Many times, when there is crime or disorder, someone sees it who may not want to get involved and insert themselves into a situation where they could be harmed,” Rambo states. “We see this particular tool as a great way to encourage our community to be better bystanders and report things sooner without them feeling threatened or having to put themselves in jeopardy.”

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