The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced the launch of a new smartphone app aimed at combatting crime earlier this month. Called “iWatchTexas” (a name notable for its affinity to the iconic “’i” prefix Apple uses), the app allows members of the public to anonymously report suspicious behavior directly to law enforcement.
The DPS says that he app was designed to enhance school safety, although it’s available to all community members who wish to report a perceived threat. After submission via the app, confidential reports are reviewed by law enforcement analysts, who consider the report in relation to other information to determine whether any cause is actionable.
Examples of suspicious behavior include:
- Observations of threats to kill or harm someone
- Purchasing materials that could be used to make bombs or other exploding devices
- Canvassing properties for videos or security features
The app is not meant, nor designed, to be used to report emergencies. If residents confront a situation of imminent danger, like a medical emergency or a crime in process, they should still call 911 for the fastest emergency response.
Critics Warn Apps Encourage Negative Profiling
While law enforcement reporting apps like iWatchTexas are becoming increasingly more popular and widely available, many critics have warned that these apps amplify perceived bias, and racial bias in particular. An analysis of reports to a similar app in Georgetown, a neighborhood in the D.C. metropolitan area with a high concentration of Caucasian residents, found that 72% to the app’s reports of suspicious behavior were about African Americans.
Critics, including civil rights groups and criminal defense attorney TX, argue that these apps can quickly become a forum for people to express and reinforce negative stereotypes related to race and socioeconomic status. Certain demographics are more likely to be perceived as “suspicious” or “sketchy” for behavior that may otherwise go unnoticed. Also, many are reported for benign “offenses” that are in no way criminal, such as playing loud music, smelling bad, and taking up more than one seat on a train.
In addition to the possible reinforcement of negative racial and socioeconomic stereotypes, these apps have been accused of eliciting false reporting as well. One Sherman woman sees this as a very real possibility for the iWatchTexas app, since it is being marketed to students who she believes are more likely to use the app irresponsibly. DPS has indicated that it is aware of this possibility, and has reminded the public that false reporting to a law enforcement agency is a violation of state law, which is punishable by substantial fines and/or jail time.
App Reporting May Lead to Unjust Arrest
Despite the good intentions of crime reporting apps like iWatchTexas, they run the risk of making marginalized people further targets of public bias and law enforcement. False reports filed on these types of apps can result in the unjustified arrest of innocent people. Those facing arrest or indictment of criminal charges should always consult with a criminal defense attorney Sherman TX. Failure to mount a strong defense may result in jail time, fines, and a criminal conviction record that will follow you forever, which can have a detrimental impact on future housing and job prospects.