New app aims to thwart crime, attacks at U.S. military bases

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The U.S. Army is using a new crime reporting application for smart phones called “iWatch Army” at 17 U.S. bases to boost its anti-terrorism and anti-crime efforts, with another 100 military bases likely to follow suit this year, the app’s developer said.

Omar Leeman, chief executive of CloseWatch Inc, told Reuters the privately-held firm had already gotten inquiries from additional Army bases, the Air Force, and increasingly security-conscious private companies.

Eventually, he said, CloseWatch hopes to expand use of the crime tips and analytics platform to 500 U.S. military bases and 3,000 overseas bases run by the U.S. military and allies.

The U.S. military has been on high alert for possible attacks at U.S. locations after incidents such as the July 2015 shooting rampage that killed five servicemembers at two military offices in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the 2009 shooting at a U.S. Army base in Fort Hood, Texas.

Leeman said the company’s app had already helped authorities thwart potential attacks and bullying behavior at hundreds of schools in North Carolina and Texas through anonymous or named tips submitted by video and text message.

The app builds on the Department of Homeland Security’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign.

“iWatch brings the concept of the neighborhood watch to the Facebook generation,” said CloseWatch founder Daniel Elliott, a telecommunications executive who was driven to create better communications tools for law enforcement after his brother’s fiancée was murdered in 1989, and he was robbed at gunpoint.

The iWatch system uses algorithms to automatically analyze inbound tips based on the FBI’s crime reporting codes and then forwards them to the appropriate agencies, or officers – all in the space of eight seconds.

U.S. Army Materiel Command spokeswoman Lisa Simunaci said the Army had spent about $145,000 on the system thus far, and was evaluating use of the app before expanding the program.

To guard against false alerts or racially biased tips, for instance against people with beards or head coverings, the Army had emphasized to employees that it was looking for behaviors rather than appearance, she said.

Leeman said the system is also primed to be alert for potentially problematic repeat tips from a single source.

CloseWatch said it planned to expand the platform and mobile app using a $1.49 million round of seed funding from angel investors and ECAP Holdings.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Frances Kerry)