Now cops and residents can connect by video
This new video app helps facilitate non-emergency responses during the coronavirus pandemic
Sponsored by Callyo
By Laura Neitzel, PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff
Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes. During a time a when face-to-face encounters can turn deadly, people across the world are turning to video apps like FaceTime, Zoom and Google Hangouts to turn social distancing into distant socializing.
Because of the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 crisis, first responders – already stretched thin – are having to prioritize what types of calls for service will result in an officer being dispatched to a home or business.
What if, law enforcement, as it often does, adopts and adapts technologies that are already in the hands of consumers? What if instead of responding in person to non-urgent calls, police could use a video app that would let officers interact with residents at a safe distance while providing a degree of connectedness like a video chat does?
The idea had been tossed around when a California tech industry giant reached out to a leading law enforcement organization to determine if the organization’s membership had any unmet needs the tech giant could support. When the organization described the need for a unique app to support law enforcement and the citizens they serve, the tech giant reached out to Callyo, knowing they had well-established apps that might be adapted to this new use case.
Answering the call
The call for help came to Callyo at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 3, just about the time most people would be wrapping up the work week. That phone call would not only change weekend plans for the Callyo team, it would also spark rapid development of a new app that would enable law enforcement officers to respond to non-urgent citizen calls with the personal touch of a face-to-face encounter but without the potential safety risk of an in-person visit.
“It was literally five o'clock on a Friday that we got the call, ‘Can you help?’ And then we immediately put engineers and designers on it that same weekend to start exploring it,” said Chris Bennett, Callyo’s founder and chief product officer.
Two days later, Callyo sent a rough prototype.
“I think around Wednesday of that week we got the, ‘Yeah, this is great. Let's keep moving,’” he said.
An extension of their mission
As a company with a mission to build technologies that improve the safety of communities and the first responders who protect them, there was no question that Callyo would put its technical prowess to work to make this happen.
Callyo’s 10-21 Police Phone is already being used by 1 in 5 police officers in the United States and is used to make over 1 million calls each month to residents from a local number without revealing their personal number. The app identifies the caller as law enforcement, so the call is more likely to get answered or returned.
Callyo’s 10-21 Video app lets first responders securely livestream video footage from their phones, enhancing officer safety and situational awareness. And their 10-21 Flight app shares drone footage from the controller to command staff and other officers, to put more eyes on search and rescue, accident investigations and other missions.
Within days, the new video app – dubbed Nectar (Non-Emergency Call to a Resident) – was born.
Nectar enables individuals to safely receive two-way audio and video calls from first responders using their 10-21 Phone app to maintain social distance in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, protecting both first responders and residents with non-emergency issues that nonetheless need police attention.
The video aspect of the call makes it possible for residents to not just report a non-emergency incident, such as the theft of tools from a tool shed, but to actually show the responding officer video of damage where the door had been pried open. The police officer gets a good look at the scene, and the resident feels they have been seen and heard.
“Our whole goal with 10-21 Police Phone was, instead of making calls from blocked numbers that make law enforcement seem unreachable and unapproachable, to make it a more personalized experience to improve community engagement,” said Bennett. “So what better way to further improve connectedness between law enforcement and communities than to get them on a video call?”
For officers who already use 10-21 Police Phone to call residents, it’s a short leap to tell the citizen that they can download Nectar if they’d like to receive a video call instead of an audio-only call.
“Residents are already being called on by 10-21, but the more residents that download Nectar, the more likely they’ll become enabled to receive a video call,” said Bennett. We've seen police departments tell all their officers to get 10-21 so they can call residents. I can foresee those same departments putting out their own tweets and press releases to let residents know, ‘Hey, as an additional step, we'd love if you go download Nectar for free. That way next time we call you, we can see and can help out.’"
Alleviating privacy concerns
Because this is an app to help residents in a time of crisis while building trust with law enforcement, Bennett says the team took a privacy-first approach when building Nectar.
Nectar collects only the caller’s mobile number, which is needed to connect that call. The app does not collect the caller’s name, email, location or any other data. If the citizen’s phone does not have Nectar installed, the officer can still place an audio-only call.
“The only thing we know is that somebody with this phone number has Nectar,” he said. ”That's the minimum amount of information we need so when the officer uses 10-21 to make that call, it only recognizes that the person the officer is trying to call has Nectar so it can connect that as a video call instead of as an audio call."
The communication follows the same rules of privacy for a citizen calling the non-emergency dispatch phone number of their local police department, says Bennett. The video call is a direct one-to-one encrypted call between the device of the officer and that of the resident. Video and audio calls are never recorded or stored on a server.
Developed for a crisis but here to stay
Nectar has been developed in record time in response to COVID-19 and adheres to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s digital rights guidance that COVID-19 response apps should be effective, science-based, necessary, proportionate, contain strict anti-bias rules and be subject to strict safeguards and audits. “During these times we want to help make sure law enforcement can be more connected to the community,” said Bennett, “and for the community to feel that way and not see law enforcement as enforcing social distancing but rather still available to help them while social distancing is in effect.”
As long as the WHO, the CDC, policymakers and others continue to stress social distancing as a measure of precaution, there will be a continuing need for solutions like Nectar to provide a bridge between residents and law enforcement. However, once the genie of using video calls for police work is out of the bottle and successfully deployed, it is perhaps unlikely that law enforcement will go back entirely to the way things were B.C. – before COVID.
Bennett hopes this initial rollout is just the first step in perfecting the app for continued use by law enforcement.
“It's a huge economic benefit to police departments to not have to spend the time and the gas and the effort to send officers out for every single call. And it's also safer for officers because some of those calls that might start as non-emergency calls might escalate into more dangerous situations,” he said. “I think some form of remote response from law enforcement was inevitable, and if this is an event that enables us to truly field test it early on, then let's take that opportunity to help law enforcement out.”
10-21 Police Phone is completely free for law enforcement officers to initiate voice and video calls and available for the iPhone and Android devices through the Apple App Store and Google Play.
Nectar is also a free service for residents who want to safely receive two-way audio and video calls from first responders. Nectar is also available for the iPhone and Android devices through the Apple App Store, Google Play and at https://nectarcall.com.