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Harris County Launches IwatchHarrisCounty.com

Reporting a Crime in Harris County?

There's an APP for that.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia on Friday unveiled a new, smartphone-age tool designed to enhance the ability of citizens to send tips to law enforcement authorities.

Flanked by several members of his command and investigative teams during a press conference at the Harris County Jail, Garcia touted "iWatchHarrisCounty," a free downloadable application for Blackberries, iPhones, Droids and other smartphone devices that will allow people to send non-emergency tips -- texts, photos, even videos -- to the department for further investigation.

The application was designed and marketed to the department by iThinQware, Inc., a software company based in Addison, near Dallas. Dan Elliot, the company's founder and CEO, said the Harris County Sheriff's Office is the first county-wide law enforcement department in the country to purchase the application, although it has already been used by numerous municipal police departments as well as private industry.

Garcia said his department has long been a leader in reaching out to the community for information on possible crime tips -- particularly in the areas of drugs and weapons trafficking and human trafficking. But through the use of new technologies and the development of partnerships and relationships with other agencies and the private sector, his office is moving into "Community Policing 2.0," Garcia said.

The "iWatchHarrisCounty" application, which is downloadable for free, will particularly appeal to younger residents who are well-versed in the use of modern technology like smarphones, but not as entrenched in the community through homeowners associations and schools, the sheriff said.

Dan Elliott, Katherine Cabaniss of Crime Stoppers, and Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

"We want everyone to know that when they see something, they need to say something" to law enforcement, Garcia said.

The sheriff said that it's hoped that people who might not otherwise report suspicious activity -- because of the fear of having a patrol car pull up to their homes or because they think that there might be nothing to it -- will take advantage of the new tool.

He stressed that the application should be used only for non-emergency tips. Residents should continue to relay information related to an imminent or ongoing emergency situation by calling 9-1-1," he said.

There are now four ways for residents to report crime tips.
  • * Online at iWatchHarrisCounty.com
  • * Texting a tip to 1-855-HCSO-iWatch (1-855-427-6492)
  • * Using the downloadable application found on iWatchHarrisCounty.coim
  • * Calling 1-855-HCSO-iWatch (1-855-427-6492)
Chris Gore, director of mobile technology for the sheriff's office, noted that the smartphone application has a tab that allows users to dial 9-1-1 directly. It also includes a short video message from Garcia, speaking in English and Spanish. "I watch Harris County, and so should you," Garcia says in the message.

The application can be used to send information to Houston CrimeStoppers (with the possibility that it might lead to a cash reward) or anonymously, Gore said.

When tips are received, Core said, information about the location will be used to determine which responding agency should be notified. Within the Sheriff's Office, the information will be vetted through the criminal investigation and patrol departments to determine the appropriate response and follow-up.

Garcia and Gore said that the department's processing of information through the application could reduce the number of times patrol units are sent to locations unnecessarily.

Elliot, the founder of the company, said the application was the fruition of work that began 25 years ago after violent crime was brought to his own family when his brother's fiance was murdered -- a crime that was never solved. Later, Elliot said, he was the victim of an armed robbery in his childhood neighborhood in Jacksonville, Fla.

The sheriff's department purchased the application -- including software, training and other associated factors -- for a one-time cost of $17,615, which came entirely from seized funds. "The crooks are paying for it," Garcia said.


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