In South Africa, it often feels like the speed at which crimes are committed are inversely proportional to the speed at which police react to them. It’s a major frustration in a country with some of the world’s highest crime rates.
A new mobile phone app aims to cut the average police response time. Namola is the “Uber for police,” says Craig Rivett of Happimo, the app’s developer. Namola is a play on the seTswana word for intervene, he says. It was created in partnership with the City of Tshwane municipality.
With a tap of a button, the app aims to streamline communications between citizens reporting a crime, police on the street, and the force’s central control room. When activated, Namola sends an alert to the police department’s control room with the user’s GPS coordinates. The system locates the closest officer and dispatches them to the scene, cutting response time by an order of magnitude, the developers claim.
For now, the system is only available in the capital city Pretoria and the surrounding Tshwane municipal district, where the city has rolled out the largest free WiFi program in the country.
So what if your phone is stolen during the robbery or carjacking (which, by the way, happens all the time)? The app also performs similar functions for complaints that are phoned in, and developers hope it will encourage witnesses to crimes to alert the authorities more quickly.
On the Google Play Store, reviews have mostly been positive, with users hailing its crime-fighting potential, but frustrated with glitches.
“Thank you Metro Police! Registration was easy. Hope I’ll never need to use it but it’s a comfort knowing the app is a just a touch away,” said one reviewer.
“Insane battery drainage, seems to be keeping the GPS on full tile (30% of all app and hardware usage.) Sadly uninstalled until this is fixed as a dead phone can’t call for help,” wrote another.
Rivett says an update has addressed several issues, and the app will continue to evolve as more users download it.
“It’s just trying to bridge the gap between the police and citizens,” he says. By monitoring the whereabouts of patrol cars, the app could also improve accountability among police. It has been installed in 135 police cars already, and the aim is to have all patrol vehicles fitted with the system.
But it will take more than an app to restore confidence in South Africa’s police. Weakened by leadership issues, allegations of political corruption, and anecdotal evidence of rampant bribery, public confidence in the police is low. Even if an app were to speed up how quickly the police respond to crimes, it’s what they do when they arrive at the scene that matters the most.