Imagine a crime happens in your neighborhood — a home break-in across the street, perhaps. A criminal is on the loose, and you don’t know until you read about it the next day on social media or in the news, or you could just be entirely unaware it happened.
Before 2012, that was a problem for Matt Bloom.
“Where I live, you didn’t know what’s going on around you,” he said. “The police are too small to be able to share information. There’s just too much information for police to share effectively with the public.”
Bloom, a resident of Adams County in Central Pennsylvania, wanted to combat the problem, so he developed Crimewatch, a technology company that immediately, effectively disseminates police information to the public.
Users can sign up to receive mobile alerts to their smartphones, and not just texts. The alerts may include an image of the offender and details about the arrest including time and location. There’s also a centralized website and mobile application where that information is available, and it automatically pushes to Facebook and other social media outlets.
“It’s the Google for law enforcement,” said Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran.
Bensalem Police Department started using Crimewatch in December, and within about a week, it already started paying dividends. In one high-profile sexual assault case, police were able to get information leading to an arrest after the Crimewatch spread the notice to about 18,000 people.
“As far as social media and crime fighting, it’s the best out there,” Harran said. “We’ll try anything new, anything different to get criminals off the street. In 31 years of law enforcement, I can probably count on one hand tools that are successful in doing that.”
Bucks County’s 26 other police departments will soon be joining the fold.
District Attorney Matt Weintraub secured an emergency management grant through the state that will ensure funding for Crimewatch in all departments across the county. When that goes live by the end of March, 120 departments in the state will be using the program, Bloom said.
Bucks County and Crimewatch tentatively worked out a three-year agreement, but law enforcement officials can evaluate and decide if it’s something they want to keep after each year. For the first year, at least, it will cost the taxpayers nothing.
“With law enforcement, they’re fundamentally skeptical. They have to be. That’s the nature of their business,” Bloom said. “Matt Weintraub didn’t make this decision lightly.”
But it wasn’t what Bloom had to say about the app that got him on board. Weintraub originally became interested in Crimewatch as an assistant district attorney. In a seminar with other colleagues, he learned from Dauphin County DA Ed Marsico and Lancaster DA Craig Stedman how Crimewatch was benefitting their law enforcement.
Back home, Bensalem beta tested the technology for the rest of the county.
“In this instance, as in many instances, Bensalem is the leader,” Weintraub said. “They were able to validate all the things I thought were great about the program.”
The app uses location services to give information about crime or wanted criminals nearby. A criminal wanted by police across the country could pop up if his or her last known address was in Bristol Borough, for example.
It also works for residents who want to report crime. Anybody with information on an investigation can contact police directly through the app, and it keeps your identity secure. That way, tipsters don’t have to fear backlash for identifying a criminal or assisting in an arrest.
“Now, more than ever, it’s more important for police to be open and share with the public in a more transparent way,” Bloom said. “We can help them foster a better relationship.” ••
For information or to sign up for CRIMEWATCH, visit crimewatchpa.com.