Community watch programs are often encouraged by local sherrif departments as a way to decrease crime in a specific community. Recognizing the need for technological advancement, there are a variety of companies out there that have released community watch apps. Though the concept behind these apps is to help communities organize and stay on top of potential crime, some have pointed out the potential and even inclination towards racial stereotyping instead.
Out of the apps developed for this purpose, the one that has received the most attention is called NextDoor. This unique new app allows users to join in on their community area and quickly connect with all their neighbors. The app requires that you verify your residence in the area and hooks you up with those around you. Users can quickly upload pictures of suspicious activities or share information that might be pertinent to safety. In many ways, it is like a social network for neighborhood watch; but when suspicious activity occurs, you get a notification.
Though this all sounds like it came with good intentions, it is often turning out to be something less than helpful. Instead of pointing out legitimate safety concerns, users are noting that there tends to be a lot of racial profiling occurring. This is not just limited to NextDoor, either. Plenty of other apps have been released to help organize community watch programs and those apps all rely on user interaction to work. The result can be alarming, pointing to old stereotypes that are still strong.
As a further extension of this fear, another company has released an app known as SketchFactor, which was designed to help users navigate the city of New York and avoid areas that are considered to by sketchy. Though many of the responses came prior to the release of this app last year, since then they have more or less proven to be justified. Like you might expect, this app often ends up taking racial undertones, ignoring the reality of a situation and judging an area based on its socioeconomic conditions rather than the reality of the situation.
On the other hand, some might argue that this sort of profiling is not necessarily a bad thing. Law enforcement agencies teach their officers profiling techniques and criminology students learn about different profiles for certain types of crimes. This type of profiling is often believed to pay off. Of course, this is when trained professionals use it, not when untrained citizens simply let their prejudice enter the picture. Regardless, the question should not be whether or not it can be effective, but rather whether or not it is right. After all, the potential good can often be outweighed by the countless examples of bad that can come of it.