Smartphone App Aids Fall in Puerto Rico’s Violent Crime

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A smartphone app allowing anonymous tip-offs has been credited with contributing to a major reduction in Puerto Rico’s crime, as murders hit a near 15 year low in 2014, just three years after reaching a record high.

According to a report from the Associated Press, the island’s 681 homicides recorded last year marked a 40 percent drop from the 1,164 seen in 2011, with violent crime overall falling 17 percent over that period.

While a large-scale deployment by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is cited as being key to the trend, the mobile app — developed by a telecommunications entrepreneur whose son was killed during the 2011 crime wave — and citizen activists operating under the slogan “Basta Ya PR” (meaning “Enough is enough, Puerto Rico”) have also been significant factors.

“The cooperation of citizens has been key in helping us solve murders and seize weapons,” Lt. Ricardo Haddock, sub director of criminal investigations in the north municipality of Carolina, told AP.

The app has been downloaded more than 40,000 times and produced more than 6,800 tips.

Meanwhile, the island’s police force has also embraced technology to improve its effectiveness, establishing a system that tracks reported gunfire in the greater San Juan area to assist in assigning daily patrol units.

Insight Crime Analysis

As the AP report states, the reduction in crime in Puerto Rico fits into a wider pattern of decline seen in the United States and the Caribbean; however, the use of technology to improve the police’s performance and engagement with residents is worth noting.

This is not the first time such technology has been introduced in the region, with a mobile app in Brazil tracking crime to inform users of the safest route through major cities, while Mexico City and Venezuela have also introduced apps designed to speed up police response times.

Meanwhile, in recent years Mexico has seen citizen journalists take up the reins of crime reporting through blogs and social media — often paying with their lives — as media outlets have been bullied out of it by criminal groups. 

Although those smartphone apps hold considerable potential for reducing crime, they rely on the local population embracing them — something many in Puerto Rico appear to have done. 

While the drop in murders and violent crime represents important gains for citizen security, it belies the island’s continued role as a hub for transnational crime and key transhipment point for drugs destined for the United States. 

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