Students create an app to help report crime on campus

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Students are provided with three features on the CampusWatch app. They can snap a photo of suspicious activity on campus, call for immediate help using the "Help" button, or chat with a UTPD officer.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of CampusWatch

Recent crimes on campus have prompted two UT students, four UT alumni and graduates from other universities, to create an app that helps students report crime on campus.

CampusWatch was created two months ago by a group 10 people. The app includes three features that allow students to snap a photo of any suspicious activity on campus, text a UTPD officer through a chat and tap a “Help” button on the home screen that alerts a UTPD officer and sends them the student’s location.

Although the app is not available on the App Store yet, CampusWatch expects the app to be released in October, which is National Crime Prevention Month, according to the National Crime Prevention Council.

Biomedical engineering senior Akash Patel, CampusWatch director for community outreach, said the app’s purpose is to help students understand it’s okay to report something on campus even if they feel only slightly threatened, and give them a platform to do so.

“We have to kind of condition [students] to say, ‘Hey if you are feeling threatened, call police. Or if you’re not feeling as threatened, contact us or use the app itself,’” Patel said. “We want students to call 911 first but if there’s a dire emergency, they can push the button as well.”

UT alumnus Paolo Soriano, one of the creators, said his goal for this app is to make students feel safe with newer and improved ways of reporting crime.

“Crime takes place everywhere, at any time, and does not wait,” Soriano wrote in an email. “The current solution (blue light boxes) is clearly outdated as they are limited to physical locations. CampusWatch aims to mitigate this risk, and empower the students to take charge now, instead of waiting on others to take action for them.”

Although the app has not been fully reviewed, some concerns remain among UT officials, such as Gerald Harkins, associate vice president of campus safety and security, regarding the app’s reporting technique. The main feature Harkins said he would like reporting apps to include is a button students can tap to directly connect them with 911 dispatchers, unlike CampusWatch which reports to UTPD.

“My greatest fear is that I go out to you and tell you, ‘Use this app. It works,’ and you’re in the basement of Gregory or in the basement of Welch and it doesn’t work,” Harkins said. “Or you call for help and the location is incorrect, or you call for help and there’s nobody monitoring.”

Patel said although CampusWatch is primarily connected to UTPD, there is a way to have the Austin Police Department linked to the app as well because their “back end is simply just another website that the [APD] can pop up on their computers.”