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That’s Suspicious Behavior: Can Crowdsourcing Prevent Crime Near USC?

Shako Liu |
September 17, 2012 | 9:47 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Scott Volk(left) and Brigette Kidd(Right) co-founded the new smart phone app. (Photo by Shako Liu)
Scott Volk(left) and Brigette Kidd(Right) co-founded the new smart phone app. (Photo by Shako Liu)

Back in the 90s, Brigette Kidd saw a woman dragged alongside a car because she wouldn't give up her purse to a robber. Kidd and her husband shouted for help, but no one showed up.

Growing up in the neighborhood of the southern part of Los Angeles, she was appalled by the community's nonchalance toward those in need of help, and her experience left her searching for effective ways to protect the community. She and her partner, Scott Volk, both former USC students in the online community program, think they have found at least method: a mobile phone app that lets people report suspicious behavior and review recent reports.

The new app, That’s Suspicious Behavior (available on Apple App Store) aims to help users avoid suspicious individuals in the community by showing crime patterns on a Google map, including behavior such as aggressive begging, vandalism, acting creepy, fighting and theft. The reports of those behaviors are pinned to a map. Through the data, both Kidd and Volk hope to prevent crime before it happens.

“That’s Suspicious Behavior is a virtual neighborhood watch,” Kidd said, “Help others by helping yourself.”

The actual idea came about when two individuals harassed Kidd in front of an ATM near campus, asking for $17.79. Kidd was waiting in the line, but she left before she got to the ATM. She said, some people might just give them $20, because it was hard to reject when you were getting money from an ATM.

Kidd and Volk started the app as a school project and later co-founded the company. They said communities around USC made this app marketable, especially since there are so many international students and students not familiar with the USC area. The April murder of the two Chinese students near campus shocked the USC community and resulted in severe questioning about campus safety.

The unique and open environment of USC makes students exposed to the neighborhoods. Though USC's Department of Public Security has added private security contractors and expanded campus cruiser service, danger is ever-present near the campus. Crime alert always comes after what happened. Kidd prided one of the big advantages of the app is its simultaneous feature—users are instantly notified by the reported crime pattern, thus being able to avoid certain areas and potential crimes.

Volk thinks USC students are a lot less guarded from the potential danger.

“When I park, it seems like a nice neighborhood,” Volk said, “Unless you have the insight, looks can be deceiving.”

Users can upload photos and descriptions of the suspicious person to the map, but this kind of bonus features are charged for after the free download.

The challenge, however, is to make people report the crime patterns on the app. Kidd and Volk both said it might be a problem for them to make people understand and care to report the suspicious behaviors, given the app covers three miles of wherever you are in the country. The idea of crowd-sourcing crime is brilliant, but crowd-sourcing won’t happen if there is no crowd.

“That’s very difficult, how do I make you care?” Kidd said, “That’s a fine line out there, because most people think someone else will do it.”

Currently there are only five categories of suspicious behaviors on the app. The reports include the time and place of the behavior, but it doesn’t tell when the area is clear or safe to walk in again.

Volk said the emotional connection between people will make them care, and those who have been victims will see the value of this app.

“My biggest fear is that it’s another good piece of technology that doesn’t succeed,” Volk said.

Reach staff reporter Shako Liu here. Follow her on twitter here.



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