Staying Safe in the Big City: Useful Apps for Your Smartphone

Ever gotten angry at the dude on the train who’s sitting just a little too close?  Ever felt like dinner from the restaurant down the street was not sitting well, perhaps due to rats in the kitchen?  Thanks to your smart phone and the dozens of useful apps, you need not worry anymore!

Projects such as NYC BigApps have encouraged New Yorkers to develop phone apps meant to improve the safety and efficiency of the city.   Winners of BigApps’ contest have developed apps such as “Work+” (locates good spots to work out of the house), “ParkAlly” (helps find your parked car or negotiate parking swaps), or – our personal favorite – “uhpartments” (reports nearby buildings’ housing code violations).

These types of apps are nothing new (relatively).  In 2010, the NYTimes reported on an app which encourages victims of street harassment to record their experiences and location, serving as a tool to discourage harassment and empower New Yorkers break the silence surrounding street harassment.   Emily May, executive director of Hollaback told the Times that:

“The Internet speeds everything up,” Ms. May said. “If we as activists can’t get the Internet to speed up social change, then we’re not doing our jobs.”

City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn recently gave the Boreum Hill based non-profit $20,000. The increased access to internet for New Yorkers, particularly though smart phones, allows for a new type of monitoring of crime and harassment, as well as allowing us to be better informed about the type of neighborhoods we live in.  We can be empowered to take more of a part in recording and staying informed about the spaces we inhabit and what is going on in those spaces.

The Stop and Frisk App, developed by the NY Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) was released this week, and designed to keep tabs on the controversial NYPD program. An NYCLU analysis has reported that:

Out of 684,330 stop-and-frisk stops, 87% percent of those stopped in 2011 were black or Latino, and nine out of ten persons stopped were not arrested, nor did they receive summonses.

The app’s main purposes are to:

Record: This allows the user to film an incident with audio by simply pushing a trigger on the phone’s frame. Shaking the phone stops the filming. When filming stops, the user immediately receives a brief survey allowing them to provide details about the incident. The video and survey will go to the NYCLU, which will use the information to shed light on the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices and hold the Department accountable for its actions.

Listen: This function alerts the user when people in their vicinity are being stopped by the police. When other app users in the area trigger Stop and Frisk Watch, the user receives a message reporting where the police stop is happening. This feature is especially useful for community groups who monitor police activity.

Report: This prompts the survey, allowing users to report a police interaction they saw or experienced, even if they didn’t film it.

The app will be used as a way to document publically where Stop-and-Frisk is occurring, how police are conducting themselves during the process, and engage the larger community in the monitoring process.  As organizers working in buildings with tenants who are almost exclusively people of color, Stop-and-Frisk (and its partner program Operation Clean Halls) certainly impacts the tenants we work with and the general safety of the community.

We at UHAB call for an end to Stop-and-Frisk in New York City!  In the meantime, this app (like many of the other innovative apps meant to improve NYC) is a great way to engage the community in holding the city and the police force responsible for its racist policies.


One thought on “Staying Safe in the Big City: Useful Apps for Your Smartphone

  1. You could also use BeSafe!, an app for a safe travel that lets you assess your safety or danger level based on your location in NYC, London and Paris, and on the time of the day. Maps of the 80 precincts are available, as well as hotspots of the most dangerous subway stations, places where pickpockets and prowl, and where crimes are most often committed. Really useful when you don’t know the city.

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