NAUGATUCK — By downloading a free app, Naugatuck residents can turn their smartphones into a crime-fighting tool.
The Naugatuck Police Department launched iWatchNaugatuck Friday. iWatchNaugatuck is a free app that allows users to submit information, including photos and videos, anonymously to police on crimes. The information is first sent to an independent server, where identifying information such as phone numbers or email addresses are scrambled so police cannot see them. Tipsters can also provide contact information so police can follow up with them.
“Anyway that we can get tips is valuable to us. But, the reluctance a lot times for people is they don’t want to get involved, and they don’t want to risk that somebody’s going to be able to identify them,” Lt. Bryan Cammarata said.
The app can be downloaded for free at app stores on the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry by searching for “iWatchNaugatuck.”
As technology, such as smartphones, becomes more and more prevalent in today’s society, Cammarata said the app gives citizens a way to provide information to police they are more comfortable with.
“As we get more and more dependent on [smartphones], you look around and everybody is walking around with their phones,” Cammarata said.
Those without smartphones can also submit anonymous tips through iWatch by calling or texting (203) 729-5222 or online at iWatchNaugatuck.com.
“It could be a game changer here in Naugatuck,” said Alan Merly, director of technology for Naugatuck public schools. “It could reach people who have never had a relationship with the police department before.”
Merly, who is working with the police department on the program, explained the tips will be reviewed by a “master alert group” of eight to 10 administrators within the police department. The group will then decide what to do with the tip.
Depending on the time a tip is submitted, it may not be looked at immediately. Cammarata and Merly both emphasized the app is not meant to handle emergencies or replace 911.
“It does not replace 911,” Merly said. “It’s not intended to. It’s just intended to be another vehicle for the citizens to submit tips.”
Cammarata added, “It is strictly for tips.”
Merly is in the process of customizing the app so City Hill Middle School and Naugatuck High School students can submit tips on issues from bullying to drugs at the schools directly to school administrators and the schools’ resource officers. Currently, students can use the app and the tips will go to the police department. Merly expected the customized splash pages for the schools to be up and running in a few weeks.
iWatchNaugatuck is not just a tool to fight crimes. It also features a way for “311,” or quality of life tips, to be submitted to the borough. Residents can report information such as potholes, broken street lights, garbage, and vandalism to the borough through the app.
Merly added the app also allows for citizens to sign up for alerts from police, including missing people or photos of suspects.
Cammarata referred questions on the exact cost of the program to Lt. Robert Harrison, who could not be reached for comment as of this post.
Earlier this year, Harrison told borough officials it would cost at least last $7,000 and there was enough money in the police department’s technology maintenance account this year to cover the cost. Renewals in subsequent years were expected to cost at least $6,000.
As the borough moves ahead with iWatchNaugatuck, Cammarata said the department is excited to have another tool at its disposal.
“We have another tool now that will allow us to be able to look into those tips and give us more avenues to investigate, that’s always a good thing,” he said. “In that regard, we’re very excited to have another tool here to be able to use to obtain information.”