The McGruff Mobile App aims to help reduce crime while providing a safe way for people to receive and share public safety alerts and information. Users who take out a free membership in the app can view an interactive map that displays crimes and sex offenders in their neighborhoods.
“What is significant about this [app] is it points to the larger trend for devices to be connected and leveraged to add value,” said Ryan Martin of Boston-based Yankee Group.
“What is going on can be used as the trigger for other actions, just like in connected homes or connected vehicles. It all boils down to automation.”
The National Crime Prevention Council and AlertID did not respond to press inquiries.
The app is available for download on iTunes or the Android market. It is the latest in a host of apps designed to establish safety and security.
It includes a virtual neighborhood watch where members can share photos and information regarding suspicious activity with neighbors, police and Homeland Security. The app also provides law enforcement emergency alerts, crime and sex offender alerts.
The app opens with a picture of McGruff himself, for more than 30 years the National Crime Prevention Council’s symbol of safety. Its features focus on protecting children on their way to and from school, in school and outside school.
Parents can snap a photo of their child and enter up-to-date descriptions of his or her appearance into the My Family Wallet. If the child goes missing, members may access the information on their smartphones and send it to law enforcement authorities, when every moment counts.
Parents also can create a group with the school administrator to share emergency information with staff, parents and others via email and push notification.
In a relatively short time, apps have become an ally in the battle against crime and threats to security. Besides student safety, the list includes apps for airport safety, credit card authorization and physical vulnerability.
But in relation to sex offenders, they also can raise data and privacy issues. Mobile users generally are seen as more privacy sensitive than Web users (see story).
In 1947, California established the first U.S. sex-offender registry to monitor the whereabouts of sex offenders living in the state. The remaining states have since passed legislation that requires released sex offenders to register with local law enforcement in the area in which they establish residence.
Until 1996, the information was available only to law enforcement agencies. The concern was that the public release of such information might violate the offender's right to privacy and to live without fear of discrimination.
The issue is far from simple, experts agree.
Back to school tips
The National Crime Prevention Council has provided the American public since 1982 with educational materials, training programs, and crime-prevention messaging, largely through its network of more than 8,000 state and local law enforcement agencies, crime prevention associations, community groups, foundations, and corporate partners.
App alerts parents about neighborhood crimes, suspicious activity.
AlertID offers sex offender alerts that cover more than 90 percent of the US population and crime alerts for cities in the US and England.
The app’s producers encourage parents to keep kids heading back to school safe by following these tips:
On the way to school, parents should map out a safe way for children to walk to school or to the bus stop, avoiding crossing busy roads and intersections. Parents should do a trial run with their kids and encourage children to walk to school or the bus stop with a sibling or friend, and wait at bus stops with other children.
Parents are urged to ask about the school’s safety and emergency plans and how local police, students and parents are involved.
After school, it is important for parents to talk to their children to see if they see anyone bullied, are bullied, or if anything else makes them feel uncomfortable.
The app’s ability to unify users in many actions fits with the notion of the Internet of Things.
“It sounds like crowdsourcing and social networks, for lack of a better word, which is certainly a viable vast market,” Yankee Group’s Mr. Martin said.
“Its achievements could lead to the broader implication of automation and adding contextual relevance to what the solution is providing.”
Michael Barris is staff reporter with Mobile Marketer, New York.