Technology Can Save Lives
By Robin-Lee Francke
A female activist from Cape Town, South Africa says she would welcome any crime reporting smartphone application that could assist with crime in the area.
Lucinda Evans the founder of Philisa Abafazi Bethu, a non-profit organisation (NPO) from Lavender Hill on the Cape Flats says a smartphone application similar to one in London which seems to be bridging the gap against the mistrust people have in police will be welcomed.
“We heed interventions for residents and try and seek an alternative to drug and gang violence in our communities and an application like this could help,” Evans says.
She was talking about the Self Evident App, currently an available application which allows residents from England and Wales to report crime. Evidence such as photographs, videos and audio can be uploaded on the app.
She says any application that can assist with crime would be welcomed with open arms.
“It would be an amazing app to have and another way of reporting [crime] and also looking at service delivery and response times when people report crimes.
“If there are other means to help the police service work and it would make it easier for people to access services then by all means,” Evans explains.
The Cape flats has been riddled by gang violence with an average of 30 people dying every weekend across the Western Cape- a state in the country- the main contributor for death is gun violence.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has been deployed to the area to try to assist the South African Police Service (SAPS) to try to curb the gang violence.
However, residents are finding little solace with the presence of the SANDF. More people, especially children are dying. Their little bodies are being riddled with bullets for merely being a child and playing outside.
“We are hearing community members on the ground, who were initially positive about the deployment of the army, starting to question their effectiveness, and if communities do not feel safer, then the SANDF and the police are not fulfilling their role and their mandate. ”
Speaking in August, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said: "with a large number of the deaths this weekend taking place in these hot spots, we have to question whether the promises made to the residents of the Western Cape by the police at the time of the deployment, are being kept.”
Daily Crime Reports per day during 2017/18 in the Western Cape
Daily Crime Reports per day during 2017/18 in the Western Cape
The Self Evident App UK
The Self Evident app was first trialled in 2013 in London, UK, and is a free application for anyone with a smartphone available for both Android and IOS users using the application stores. Since its launch the application now has over 28 000 users. It’s a simple method to report crime without the hassle of having to go down to the police station.
You can also upload images, videos, audio, your immediate statement, so basically, this app allows you to be as descriptive as you possibly can without fear or intimidation from anyone. The application has supplied 5,000 pieces of evidence and about 3,500 crime reports. However, the application was in danger last year when it faced suspension as it was just “too costly” to keep running.
The developers of the application are Witness Confident. Director Guy Dehn spoke to me via email and says the application was saved in the 'nick' of time by a donor.
“The reason for building this app was to encourage and enable citizens to engage with and help the police. The app has 28,500 registered users and only works in the UK [United Kingdom]. Front line police officers value the app as do victims and witnesses but there’s a 'not invented here’ mindset that has meant the police have not hitherto promoted the app,” Dehn explains.
The running of the application costs £550k (R10 354 654.78) annually.
“We thought we’d have to suspend the app last November but at the last minute a charity gave us funds to keep it going for the year. Costs depend on usage as evidence is stored but projected figure put to Met Police was £275k for six months,” Dehn says.
A step by step guide on using the Self Evident app
I asked people on Twitter which city they thought was safer.
And to my surprise, 32% of people chose Cape Town,
While 68% of people chose London.
Robin Rulser, migrated to London 13 years ago in the hope of a better life and he found it.
Stemming from Mitchells Plain, one of the most dangerous areas on the Cape Flats, Robin knew how tough it was, especially for a male. So, when he got the opportunity to leave, he did and says changing cities was the best decision he has ever made.
Last year, on his annual visit home in December, Robin lived through his worst nightmare.
Driving along a busy intersection in Mitchells Plain he was ambushed by a group of men wanting to hijack him and the female passenger in his vehicle.
Reacting on instinct he drove off.
It seemed like a scene in a Fast & Furious movie as he was being chased by this group of men in what felt like forever. Fortunately, he managed to escape but was left badly shaken and covered with glass shards as a window was thrown out during the chase.
The City of Cape Town says it's open to any technology that will assist in curbing crime.
“The City of Cape Town would be open to any type of technology that assists in the fight against crime, provided it passes muster in terms of South African law – particularly around the reporting of criminal incidents,” says Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith.
He says they’re already working with numerous applications which plug into their corporate call centre and emergency call centres.
This would register service requests directly onto their request system.
“So, yes, technology has a place in the fight against crime, but it is essential to get the resources in place first so that when a resident puts their hand up to alert enforcement agencies to criminal activity, they can be sure of a fast response.”
He says he even met with developers for a new application earlier this week.
Alderman Smith heads the portfolio for Metro Police and Law Enforcement, a separate entity to the South African Police Service which is a national enforcement agency.
“From a City perspective, there is still much work to be done, but given our limited resources," he explains. "I am fairly satisfied with the rate of response. Anecdotally, we have seen an increase in the number of tip-offs received, because community members see a response when they alert us to things.”
-Alderman JP Smith
There are more applications and people all over the world are making use of them.
- In 2015, BBC reported on an application called Eyewitness to Atrocities was launched so people in war stricken countries example Syria, could film the injustice against them. But, because of fake news, the application will be able to be verified by professionals and guilty parties could be prosecuted in a court of law if the evidence is deemed strong enough by law professionals.
The application, which is only available for Android users, will also not be able to land you into trouble with officials as its been encrypted. If your phone is taken, the material uploaded would not be visible as it would be stored on the application’s database.
- In Brazil, residents in Rio de Janeiro, are all using the Onde Tem Tiroteio (Where Shootouts Are) which was launched last year (2018).
The application is built to alert residents of the location of current gun violence in the state allowing them to divert from danger. The application is available on the app stores.
- In the United States of America (USA), residents in New York (launched in 2015), San Francisco and Baltimore (launched earlier this year) are using the Citizen.
This application allows residents in their respective states to do to see where trouble is brewing and the seriousness of the incidents at that particular location.