Mexico City's government has launched a cell phone application allowing users to rapidly locate the nearest police in an emergency, raising the question of whether harnessing such technology will indeed lead to improved security.
Using GPS technology, the free application "Mi Policia" (My Police) can pinpoint the exact location of smartphone users in the Mexican capital and allow them to communicate directly with local police chiefs. According to Jesus Rodriguez Almeida, the head of Mexico City's Public Security Ministry, this will enable police to respond to emergency calls within minutes. The application will function 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in all 847 city quadrants, reported El Universal.
Rodriguez Almeida said the "useful, simple and modern" application fulfilled a government promise to better connect city residents with the police force via technology within the first 100 days of the new administration.
Right now the application can only be used by cellphone users with data plans but police say it will eventually be available to all smartphone owners, and to automatically redirect callers to the emergency line 066 if the quadrant's police chief is unavailable.
InSight Crime Analysis
Mexico City is not alone in attempting to use technology to solve its crime problems. Colombia introduced a similar phone application in 2011, called "Cuadrantes" (Quadrants), which locates the user and provides them with a police phone number for the corresponding section of the city. The program, initially intended for eight cities, was meant to allow people in unfamiliar areas to locate the nearest police.
While social media tools like Facebook and Twitter appear to be the favored way to quickly share information about local crime dynamics in Mexico, some are beginning to look at how smartphones can be used to track security issues. During a two-day conference in July 2012, Google employees spoke to activists and government officials about using technology to combat criminal networks, highlighting the value of cell phones.
However, techonology can only be effective if people use it. The "Mi Policia" app is presumably meant to encourage crime reporting, but in a country with low police confidence, extremely low crime resolution rates, and slow police reform, the likelihood that citizens will have faith in the app is diminished. It is also clear that such apps will only benefit a small percentage of the population in Mexico, failing to address violence in poorer, rural areas.