Campus Safety: There's an App for That

SMC Chief of Police Johnnie Adams shows the new app LiveSafe at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica Calif. on Monday, September 26, 2016. LiveSafe is an app the police department at SMC wants to implement in order to promote safety. Within LiveSafe, you can contact both the SMCPD and the LAPD by calling or messaging them, or conveniently send them pictures or videos of the issue. There are also a variety of other safety features. (Yulia Morris)
SMC Chief of Police Johnnie Adams shows the new app LiveSafe at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica Calif. on Monday, September 26, 2016. LiveSafe is an app the police department at SMC wants to implement in order to promote safety. Within LiveSafe, you can contact both the SMCPD and the LAPD by calling or messaging them, or conveniently send them pictures or videos of the issue. There are also a variety of other safety features. (Yulia Morris)

Currently used at over 100 colleges in 30 U.S. states, LiveSafe — a free-to-download app soon to be licensed on the SMC campus — is the world’s leading communications platform for reporting crimes, suspicious activity, and directing people to safety resources on college campuses.

“I was a victim of assault. I was held up at gunpoint whilst living in Capitol Hill,” said Shy Pahlevani, founder of LiveSafe. 

“It just inspired the entrepreneur in me to want to leverage the mobile to be able to communicate with safety officials,” said Pahlevani. “My co-founder, Kristina Anderson, was a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting…We used our personal experiences as the foundation and motivation behind growing LiveSafe.”

SMCPD Chief of Police Johnnie Adams previously worked at USC, where he saw the LiveSafe app used first-hand. He proposed bringing the LiveSafe app to SMC to the Associated Students board and asked for $28,000 of funding to support this mission. The AS board voted in favor of funding the app at their September 19 meeting.

“Whoever has [the app] on their phone [can be] extra eyes and ears to the police department,” said Adams. “We have 33,000 students and we have 15 officers, which is not a lot of officers if you compare to UCLA, which has 43,000 students and 65 officers.”

The app sports several features. LiveSafe users can share safety concerns via “Report Tips.” There are pre-listed tips that can be selected including violence, mental health, theft, and sexual assault. Users can send, anonymously if preferred, texts, photos, videos, and audio clips directly to safety officials. The SMCPD or LAPD will respond in real-time via a live online chat. Because the tips are GPS-tagged, police know exactly where to go. 

“A couple of people were arrested [at USC] based on the use of the app,” said Adams. “We caught [bike theft] suspects because a student could text and take a picture… When a student is on their phone, they are usually texting anyways. The crook is not thinking anything is happening… texting doesn’t raise the suspicion of the suspect, so it helps us to catch them a lot quicker. But if someone started dialing, the suspect would realize they are calling the police. No police department [near here] has the ability to take information via text.”

Safety officials can use the app to share critical information and notify of updates, ensuring that all students and faculty are prepared in any emergency situation.

“We can put clear instructions of what you need to do so that you can help,” said Adams. “Let’s say an earthquake occurs, we can put down our emergency procedures on earthquakes... [and] where our evacuation zones are.” Adams also attached significance to students being able to contact SMCPD directly via “Call Campus” or “Message Campus” in addition to “Call 911.”

The “SafeWalk” feature allows students to safely get to their destination by having someone else, such as a friend, faculty member, or police official, virtually escort them. Students can share their current location, destination location, and estimated arrival time with their contacts through “Notify Friends,” and then their movements can be followed through a live map as they travel from point-to-point. Others can keep constant, simultaneous communication with the student, which allows instant help in case of emergency. This tracking system is especially useful for students with classes at night.

In addition, if a student is in an unfamiliar area, they can use “Safety Map” to find out exactly where they are, which places are reported as dangerous and should be avoided, and what emergency resources are nearby.

Although it appears there are many benefits of LiveSafe, there were mixed reviews among the Associated Students Board who ultimately voted in favor of the app.

The AS Director of Budget Management, Orlando Gonzalez Gudino-Guizar, explained why he disapproved the app.

“First of all, it’s a lot of money,” said Gonzalez Gudino-Guizar. “The [funding for the] app is going out of the new-tech and student success account. As of right now we have 352,000 dollars in that account. The app was 28,000 dollars. That’s eating up a little bit less than 8 percent.” He said, “I don’t think we should be paying 100 percent of it. It will help keep us safe but that shouldn’t be the responsibility of the Associated Students… if it’s that important the district should be able to allocate some money to it.”

SMC Chief of Police Johnnie Addamd shows a new app LiveSafe at SMC college, Santa Monica California on Monday, September 26, 2016. LiveSafe is an app the police department at SMC wants to implement at the school in order to promote safety. Within LiveSafe, you can contact both the SMCPD and the LAPD by calling or messaging them, or conveniently send them pictures or videos of the issue. There are also a variety of other safety features. (Yulia Morris)
SMC Chief of Police Johnnie Addamd shows a new app LiveSafe at SMC college, Santa Monica California on Monday, September 26, 2016. LiveSafe is an app the police department at SMC wants to implement at the school in order to promote safety. Within LiveSafe, you can contact both the SMCPD and the LAPD by calling or messaging them, or conveniently send them pictures or videos of the issue. There are also a variety of other safety features. (Yulia Morris)

AS Vice President Adrian M. Restrepo was initially not convinced that funding the LiveSafe app was a good idea due to the cost, but eventually voted in favor of the item.

“I approved it because it will allow the next boards to know how to approach business if another app was to come out,” said Restrepo.

However, he is uncertain about the app’s success at SMC. “I think it’s on a trial period,” said Restrepo. “I wanna see numbers. I wanna see how many people are downloading the app weekly. I wanna see how many people are using the app. I wanna go and ask people if they know about the app.”

Pahlevani discussed some of the many success stories reported by other campuses that use LiveSafe.

“[At] USC... a student was harassed and they used the LiveSafe app to report it. Within minutes they arrested the individual. It was on the front page of LA Times,” said Pahlevani. “Georgetown University, there was a real-time tip about indecent exposure and they made an arrest. University of Delaware, a student submitted a tip about a robbery and an immediate arrest was made. Northern Virginia Community College, a student’s life was saved based on information that came through [the app].

According to Chief Adams, LiveSafe will most likely be launched at SMC on October 20. This is the day of the Great Shake Out, a set of earthquake drills nationwide, making it the perfect opportunity to educate students about the app.