Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Resilient Community: Online Crime Watch and Alerts

Seattle 911 Police Blog has an interesting example of community information sharing here: PDFs: Other crime alerts sent this month to UW students.

In that example the UW is sending crime incident alerts to students. Here are my examples of extending that communication style:

  1. Police precincts offer an email alert system to local residents, with info duplicated on a website.
  2. A cooperative second tier is created for citizens to share information, sometimes augmenting the police alerts and other times referring to incidents or suspicious conduct unknown to police.
  3. Seattle has neighborhood association offices, one in each neighborhood. It would be nice to keep the physical/real offices open, and augment with an online version. The physical office could even serve the online version by providing a place to sign up as a member of the online community, as a way to keep random people outside the true community from participating in the forum.
  4. These community information systems need a true residents only layer of activity, and a wall-less layer where information is available to the whole world, both the specific incident information and the community's communication style. This keeps trolls out of my neighborhood discussion space, but makes the whole operation open source for the world.

I just wrote an entry on civic wrangling, and John Robb just wrote about community security here. The UW email alert example and my extensions are a more concrete, incremental treading through the topic space.

This part of the blog entry goes to another level related to the crime watch/resilient community topic. I can anticipate one hurdle to open sourcing a community's problems, big property owners might see this as negative PR and potential for lowering their property values. This would be the opposition point between absentee investors versus people truly in the community. For the investor, the problem space is all abstract, with marketing spin the main means of improving the property. For those truly living in the residence, the problem space is not abstract, with personal safety, transportation, access to grocery supplies, and a million other pragmatisms making or breaking the situation.

A resilient community will not PR itself out of problems.

Christian Science Monitor -Neighbors on Patrol


Lord Rybec said...

Interesting thought:

Even if the local police are unwilling to implement such a system, it would not be very difficult for an individual with minor web programming skill to implement it.

For instance, I could get some free web space and setup a web page/forum like you suggested. Then I could get some friends in my neighborhood together and go door to door, handing out fliers and offering residents membership in the forum.

Selection would be simple: First, since I am only knocking doors in my neighborhood, most people answering will be residents to begin with. Second, I could require ID like state ID, or drivers license, which always has the person's address. If the ID has only a postal box, things might be a little more complicated, but even then, the physical presence at the address is a good reference for the person.

Once the system was up and running, I could then print a flier with the URL and mission statement of the web page, and drop it off at the police station. If the police don't seem to respond to things mentioned on the forum, I could print out more urgent things and drop them off at the police station (or encourage concerned residents to take this task).

There would be a small amount of cost associated with doing it this way, but it would be so small that a single person could probably foot the bill without worry. If I am wrong, $1 a month membership fee would more than cover expenses with even 25 people in the neighborhood. (Actually, a $1 a month membership fee would be a good way of helping to remove people when they move out of the neighborhood.)

In Alaska (where I live) this would work especially well, since it is not uncommon for people to own at least one gun. This could help give armed citizens the initiative to 'patrol' areas that are discovered to be dangerous, within their neighborhood, or even in nearby areas. Criminals might even start watching the page so that they know what areas they had better avoid. This might make participating neighborhoods safer, just by existing.

This program might actually work better than one run by the police. The major limitation is that if I move, someone must be found to upkeep the web site.

Lord Rybec

The Serpent Lord said...

The best thing would be to design a system that can be expanded to global proportions on the following wise:

phase 1: find a group of 5 really dedicated people to start the project. If you can get local law enforcement involved, even better. Until you have 5 really dedicated people you rely on face-to-face networking (getting to know your neighbors, find out who is interested, who is dedicated.)

phase 2: Once you have 5 people with serious commitment at the neighborhood level, you start advertising in the neighborhood, inviting people to come sign up. You also start scoping out other familiar neighborhoods through personal face-to-face connections (close friends and family for example) and start trying to organize phase 1 operations in those neighborhoods.

phase 3: once you have a multiple neighborhoods networked you start spreading the system nationally and globally. It is very important to have face-to-face contact and a willingness to proove identity and residence at all levels, which is going to mean plane trips in many cases. During this phase the neighborhood operations should become self-sufficient allowing the original 5 dedicated people to move on to other projects.