Four weeks ago, a group of 11 North Philadelphia high school students enrolled in the computer design summer program "Apps and Maps" at Temple University and set out to create an innovative way to keep track of crime.
They came up with "Gotcha," which they say makes reporting a crime about as easy as sending a tweet.
The website is structured to resemble a social media site such as Facebook. Someone who witnesses a crime can visit Gotcha, select the type of incident from a scroll-down menu, and provide an address. There's even an option to upload a photo of the criminal.
The students' instructor, Mike Korostelev, said inspiration for the app came from the idea that small petty crimes often go unreported.
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"They wanted to make it really easy and also informal to report these kinds of small crimes like shoplifting, small simple assaults and petty thefts," said Korostelev. "Even if the police don't necessarily respond to these events, they can evaluate these patterns and build a database that they normally wouldn't have."
Similar databases exist, Korostelev said, but are based on police records and used for historical research. Gotcha is more dynamic because it lets users upload information and keeps track of crimes in real time, he said.
The "Apps and Maps" program is part of Temple's larger Building Information Technology Skills summer program. Michelle Masucci, interim senior vice provost for research at Temple, has worked for three years to build up the civic engagement component of the BITS program and to connect technology and empower youth to solve local problems.
"It's a thrill to see the students perform in that way after such a short period of time," said Masucci. "You hope that's what students will get out of the program ,and then to see it come to fruition is why we do this."
"It's a community building-type website," said Kory Calicat-Wayns, 17, one of the site designers. "If you see something wrong going on in your community, you have the power to report it and not feel any type of social stigma."
For now, the application is limited to a website, but eventually the students would like to develop it for mobile devices with the ability to receive push notifications when crimes in a neighborhood take place, said Calicat-Wayns.
Although false claims are a concern, the students say they eventually will implement a filter system as well.
They have a Kickstarter campaign to help raise money to further fund the project, which they hope to have launched by early September.