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Real-time crime app hits Baltimore

Posted at 4:58 PM, Feb 22, 2019

BALTIMORE, Md. — The scene outside Frederick Douglass High School two weeks ago was frenzied, confused.

“Yeah, I am nervous,” parent Jeanette Davis said that day, “Ain't nobody talked to nobody. I'm nervous.”

Davis was just one of many parents who streamed to the west side high school, her son, a junior was inside the school where all they knew was that there was a shooting; Douglass was on lock down.

Answers were scarce that day but developers of a new app feel it could have helped.

“The information would have instantaneously got to everybody nearby with the app with all known information in terms of what happened, what the police are working on, what you should be aware of, ” app developer Andrew Frame said.

Frame created Citizen, an application that debuted in Baltimore last week.

It bills itself as a real time crime app where users get crime alerts almost instantaneously.

In fact, the app was in beta testing during the Douglass incident and developers said it alerted them of the shooting 90 seconds after it happened.

A result they say, is from more than just listening to police scanners.

“There is also artificial intelligence, more advanced technology that sort of does the sorting and filtering and summarizes things and then we have 24/7 analysts who are making sure that the technology and everything is working correctly. So we are monitoring this around the clock,” Frame said.

The app has already been operating in New York and San Francisco.

Baltimore is just its third city and debuted before Los Angeles in part because of local investor, advisor, and former gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous.

“We saw the possibility to basically create a free, public utility for everybody to know when there is a serious threat to human life.”

Jealous says it was after three carjackings in one day at Mondawmin Mall followed by Douglass a week later that convinced the Citizen team to launch in Baltimore next.

It was soft launched when police say Neil Davis shot a hall monitor just inside the vestibule of the high school.

“On the app, it pops up...all of us who were beta testing, that there had been a shooting at the high school,” Jealous recalled, “And we had to live with knowing that the parents wouldn’t know for ten or 20 or 30 minutes more until it started to go out. I got two kids in the public schools. I need to know if there is a problem and I want to know right away and every parent deserves the same information.”

Citizen sent us this slide from that day showing the timeline of the shooting:

It's first notification would have gone out to people within a quarter mile of the school at 12:05, then the confirmed account went city-wide three minutes later.

Citizen points out it sent out 10 updates 16 minutes before media started pushing out the news.

Citizen says this is exactly how making public data available and more immediate can benefit a city in which it operates

“Increased safety, increased situational awareness, reduced anxiety because you know exactly what is going on and overall, a safer city,” Frame said.

Citizen was in Baltimore last week to brief members of the city council on how it works.

Within its first day going live, three thousand people have downloaded the app and the company says Baltimore has been much quicker to adopt the app than both New York and San Francisco.