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For Parade Patrol, Police to Tap Public with Crowdsourcing App

The Newport Police Department is hoping people download and install VizSAFE on their smartphones to help them keep Newport safe and secure during the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

A screenshot of the VizSAFE app in action. (Photo Courtesy: Vizsafe, Inc.)
A screenshot of the VizSAFE app in action. (Photo Courtesy: Vizsafe, Inc.)
The Newport Police Department has grown to appreciate how technology can help them catch criminals and solve crimes, but sometimes, collecting and sifting through data on the Internet is a time-consuming proposition.

And in many cases, they respond to an incident, such as a car crash or brawl outside a bar, knowing that witnesses might have taken pictures or video. But getting their hands on those images isn't always easy for police. And for legal reasons, even the best video of a crime sometimes  can't be used in court because proving the time, date and place can be tricky — if not impossible.

A new app from Middletown-based Vizsafe, Inc., offers both police and the community a new way to share details about safety issues in the city and using the tool is as simple as posting on Facebook or Twitter.

It's called VizSAFE and the free app allows people to instantly transmit photos, videos or other information to police securely, privately and tagged with GPS coordinates. And Newport Police are urging everyone in Newport to download the app today in the hopes of giving it a trial run during one of the largest city events of the year: the 58th Annual Newport St. Patrick's Day Parade.

"As recent events have demonstrated, citizens with smartphones have recorded photos and videos that have proven valuable to community safety," the Police Department said in a release. "VizSAFE efficiently streamlines, organizes and delivers this content instantly to the emergency responders responsible for public safety."

With the app, users can not only post photos and videos with descriptions, you can upload previously captured media from your camera roll, geolocate and map incident reports, get notifications from family and friends when new reports are posted, subscribe for real-time alerts and share posts on the app to other social media networks like Facebook or Twitter.

Vizsafe CEO Peter Mottur said the partnership between his company and Newport Police is exciting and a great collaboration between a local company and local law enforcement. 

He noted that the tool is not just for people to share information with the police, though it is a great tool for doing just that.

"It's an opportunity for people to get information and share information not just with the police, but with the community itself," Mottur said.

You can report potholes, a tree that has fallen on a power line, a lost dog, or a fender bender.

"These are things that we encounter every day and not enough people complain about," Mottur said, noting that many people would take a more active role in raising concerns about safety and quality of life issues if it were easier to do. Instead of writing letters, going to town meetings, making phone calls and filing police reports, residents can take a picture, push a button and accomplish the same thing with the app.

"It's a way for the community to have a voice. It's visual and it's real time," Mottur said. 

For law enforcement, the tool shows tremendous potential for making the job of sifting through mountains of data much easier. Consider the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings last year when an outraged and upset public took it upon themselves to crowdsource photos and video from that day to try and help police identify suspects.

Eventually, police were able to identify the two brothers who committed those heinous acts, but not before innocent people were falsely identified on a public message board and their names and images were transmitted around the world.

With something like VizSAFE, police would have been able to tell everyone to submit photos and videos directly through the app. As the images stream in, police wouldn't have to sort them by time, date, location. Instead, that would happen automatically, giving police the big-picture view much more quickly. That means more time looking for suspects and less time managing the Herculean task of sorting and organizing the data in the first place.

"Police are scouring social media for information already," Mottur said. "What VizSAFE does is speed up the process and make it much easier for police to collect and use the media they know is out there."

But the app isn't designed just for crises.

"The whole premise is empowering people to be good neighbors and to help each other out," Mottur said. 

If enough people document an issue in a particular area, such as a really nasty pothole, any user will be able to see it on the map. Not only can you avoid the pothole, you can see that you're not alone with your concerns and so can city officials. If a dog is lost, its owner might get help finding it as people post photos of sightings wherever the dog might be running.

Police note that the tool will be a valuable asset for law enforcement, but said it won't replace calling 911 in an emergency and the system won't be monitored 24/7.

But if you do happen to be witness to a crime, or have video of a street brawl or car accident, uploading the information to police with VizSAFE might help police take a criminal off the street and deliver justice to one more victim.

To download VizSAFE, visit www.vizsafe.com It is available for Apple and Android devices as well as on the Web.

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