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Tweet3PO's creators say the future of crime fighting isn't neighborhood watch - it's social media

Photo: Christopher Balogh, License: N/A

Christopher Balogh

If George Zimmerman had access to Tweet3PO Trayvon Martin may never have been shot.

That's a pretty bold statement, but it's one that Dave Grobleski, an Orlando resident and one of the founders of Tweet3PO, a service that gives people access to calls made to the Orlando Police Department as they're being dispatched, stands by. He says the company, a little startup based in his downtown home, helps neighbors combat crime without ever having to confront someone they think might be suspicious.

“With the use of Tweet3PO, the chances of conflict can decrease,” says Grobleski, who works remotely as a full-time architect for Microsoft's Justice and Public Safety Practice, which helps the company create public safety programs. Instead of having “Zimmerman types driving around at night with guns in their cars,” Grobleski says, Tweet3PO shares information about suspicious activity in neighborhoods so people can take precautions to keep themselves safe until the police arrive.

Tweet3PO was founded by Grobleski and his friend John “Diggz” Higgins in the spring of 2009. Tweet3PO is a Twitter bot – an automated Twitter feed that uses software to send out messages to subscribed users – that sends subscribers Twitter messages tailored to their zip codes that describe calls for police in their neighborhoods. For instance, on the afternoon of May 30, Tweet3PO sent out a message to those subscribed to its Princeton/SilverStar feed: “#Trespasser 3101 W PRINCETON ST 32808 (5/30 16:29) #Orlando #PrincetonSilverStar”; to its Central Business District feed: “#SuspiciousPerson W PINE ST & S GARLAND AV 32801 (5/30 15:38) #Orlando #CentralBusinessDistrict.” Tweet3PO's Twitter profile (@Tweet3PO) says the service has sent out 251,200 tweets since joining Twitter on July 13, 2009.

When it first started, Tweet3PO covered just a few zip codes, but now it serves all communities in the city of Orlando. Any dispatched call reported through the Orlando Police Department's website, cityoforlando.net/police/activecalls, is transmitted through Tweet3PO as the site updates every 10 minutes. Everything from breaking-and-entering to theft to attempted suicides may be tweeted through the service. If the police list it on their active calls list, Tweet3PO broadcasts it.

Grobleski says the service engages neighbors in a way that in-person neighborhood-watch efforts can't.

“Giving neighbors a mechanism to become socially engaged strengthens the bonds of a community and naturally deters crime,” Grobleski says. “Instead of having occasional communication with your neighbors about crime in the neighborhood, now your phone could go off three times a day in your pocket, letting you know that you should be on the lookout.”

Higgins (who prefers to be called Diggz, since that's the name he's known by in the tech community), and Grobleski, who are like the nerdy version of Abbott and Costello – Diggz is tall and straight and serious, Grobleski is short, squat and speaks a mile-a-minute – say their system could completely replace in-person neighborhood watch programs, where people have to actually leave their homes, walk the streets and call the police if they notice illegal activity. It's safer, they say, because people never run the risk of encountering someone they're concerned about face-to-face, and all of a community's followers – not just the person who reports an incident – are immediately made aware of what's going on around them. The two say this service brings crime-fighting to the digital frontier and makes communities safer.

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