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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

“Tweet3PO is an awareness tool, created to augment the effectiveness of traditional neighborhood watch,” Grobleski says. “It has succeeded in bringing a heightened sense of community participation in the neighborhood.”

However, the service does have its down sides, at least for some. It's entirely automated, based on Twitter and unfiltered by human editors. It reveals complete addresses of the locations of calls for police assistance – including calls for attempted suicides and for both violent and nonviolent mentally ill individuals – if the police report them. Some say sharing the information via social media, making it even more widely available, could actually expose some crime victims, or those in sensitive situations, to greater risk.

Grobleski says he's heard that criticism before, but he doesn't buy it.

“Any information we pass along has already been posted publicly by the local agency,” Grobleski says, which means it's available to anyone who wants it. “We do not ask for or use any data that's not already considered public.”

Besides, Grobleski says, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Like a lot of technology success stories, the Tweet3PO story starts in a mundane place – Apple and Hewlett-Packard were both launched from garages; this story starts on Grobleski's front porch in Lake Eola Heights in downtown Orlando.

“Diggz just got back from the 140 Character Conference, which discussed new ways to use Twitter,” Grobleski recalls. Diggz, chief tech evangelist for Tropo.com, an Orlando-based company that builds communications apps and the founder of Orlando nonprofit Geeks Without Bounds, which develops humanitarian technology, says he wasn't quite sure what practical use this trivial-seeming social-media application could possibly have. “Even though I just came back from the conference, we still couldn't figure out what the hell Twitter could be used for,” he says.

As they sat on their porch, two OPD cars sped by in a flash. Rather than simply wonder where the cars were going, they decided to find out for themselves.

“Since my job with Microsoft deals with law enforcement agency technology, I knew what to look for, so I looked for the CAD (computer-assisted dispatch) of OPD's active calls list on the Internet,” Grobleski says. The two found the information they wanted, and that's when they realized that there was a useful application for Twitter after all.

“We took the open-government data from the website and built a code around it, to feed through a Twitter account,” he says, and built a prototype of the project that night. The tech-geek duo, who've known one another for a decade, named it Tweet3PO in a nod to Star Wars' golden android, C-3PO, a robot that specialized in bridging the gap between human and machine communications. After looking into ways to use social media to distribute open-government data, they contacted the Orlando Police Department to ask for its cooperation. A few months later, Tweet3PO went live.

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