New App lets you avoid crime hotspots in London

High-crime London neighbourhoods will be flagged up by a controversial new social app that offers people the choice of a “safe” or “risky” route to their destination.

RedZone aims to become a “virtual neighbourhood watch” with GPS navigation similar to the A-to-B directions of Google Maps, but with a verbal warning when the user nears a crime hotspot.

Algorithms “geo-fence” troublespots using sources including Met police data, news stories, crowdsourcing and social media.

Users input to and from points and are offered a slower route deemed safer or a faster, but allegedly riskier, one.

RedZone, free on Apple iOS, also features reporting buttons for users to “broadcast an incident” by dropping pins on a map, including the option of attaching photographs and video.

Founder Ted Farnsworth told the Standard he planned releasing a London version within a month and denied it could unfairly stigmatise neighbourhoods after some Twitter users claimed the US version was racist.

A “view crime” button shows incidents, including stabbings, assaults and thefts, as pins over the past six months and clicking on a pin shows the date it occurred.

Users can drop their own pins for crimes and also alert others to hazards, traffic cameras, road closures or police activity.

Mr Farnsworth said its uses could include allowing Tube harassment victims an anonymous way of instantly reporting perpetrators by dropping a pin on a map, although this will not be sent to police.

He added it was not a substitute for calling 999, but could be a helpful tool for police to monitor.

RedZone aims to be more comprehensive than apps such as CrimeWatch and Crime Map, which use only official sources, through a model similar to the Waze traffic and navigation community app, where drivers alert each other to incidents.

Mr Farnsworth said: “London is our next market and we will be there in the next 30 days.

“Police can use the app as another resource, another set of eyes on the streets, almost as a virtual neighbourhood watch.

“If officers start to notice many pins dropped in one neighbourhood at a certain time of day, for example, it would make sense for them to patrol that area more closely.

“People are still encouraged to call 999 if they witness a serious crime but when they also report it through the app, they’re able to warn others who might be nearby.

“You can look on the map to see where there’s been a stabbing or fight or assault or incident or sexual harassment or robbery.

“You can also put in your destination and you get two routes, a safe route and a risky route.

“The safe route is usually about 12 to 15 per cent longer but it will calculate and take you around those pins, around that red zone.”

It follows the shutdown of US app SketchFactor, which crowdsourced tips for pedestrians to avoid “sketchy” areas, but drew headlines such as: “Want to Avoid Black Neighbourhoods? There’s an App for That”.

Mr Farnsworth said: “In the long-term the crowdsourcing side of it will be even more critical, where people are reporting what’s going on.

“It’s for the citizens to take control of their neighbourhoods and work with the police to reduce crime, it’s not racist at all.

“We’re taking factual data and making you aware of your surroundings.”

Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: “Any technology that helps to reduce crime and keep the public safe can only be seen as positive.”

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