It was recently announced that the Manchester police department would be participating in a new civilian communications venture. Utilizing smart phone technology and GPS triangulation, the ‘citizen’s alert’ feature of the Ping 4 app will send alerts from MPD to anyone running the app based on their geographic location around the city.
The Ping 4 Deals app debuted last July as the project of former US senate candidate Jim Bender and entrepreneur Gerry Boucher. At that time, Ping 4 Deals was marketed solely as a connection mechanism between area businesses and potential customers. While the app is free to consumers, participating businesses subscribe in order to advertise their deals. A separate app called Ping 4 Alerts was reported to alert for “weather and other emergencies” and was said to be launching last fall. At present, the company’s single available app has been shorted to Ping 4, and the budding police alert system has been incorporated into the nationwide app.
With its origin here in New Hampshire, Ping 4 is giving Manchester law enforcers a unique opportunity to incorporate modern technology into their repertoire. It likely won’t be long before more departments begin utilizing Ping 4′s feature, but in the meantime, the app’s users visiting Manch from out of state may be surprised when they begin receiving geographically specific alerts from the local police. Similar notification systems do currently exist in other communities, but they rely on fairly expensive infrastructure and can cost departments thousands, in addition to requiring participants to sign up manually.
On March 19, Ping 4 uploaded two videos to its YouTube channel, both from a press conference earlier in the day promoting their product. The press conference was held with Manchester police in association with the governor’s office in Concord. A few pro-police websites had the scoop on the details that day, and in the day following, some NH newspapers ran coverage of the announcement.
According to Manchester chief David Mara, “Ping4’s Citizens Alerts app is yet another resource for us to provide our citizens with alerts and notifications of emergency situations.” In the video posted to Ping 4′s channel, Mara explains how similar technologies implemented by other departments had a limited following. Because the alert feature being offered to Manchester police is coupled with an already existing retail consumer app, the police don’t have the difficult task of motivating people to opt-in to their service. “We get to be on the cutting edge of technology. Usually law enforcement catches up afterward, but this was exciting to be involved in.”
The chief described the alert system activating as people entered what he called geofences, which would be areas designated by MPD to receive a specific alert message if a phone running the app is within that area. One source indicates that the designated area could be as small as a parking space. The citizen’s alert also has the ability to “wake up the phone in extreme emergencies with an audio alert”. Perhaps Manchester police have already crafted a policy for when they’d use the option to awaken sleeping phones for extra special alerts.
“What I’m excited about is that we can put a geofence around any particular area in real time,” Manchester police captain Nick Willard explained. As he expressed his excitement over the app, he iterated how digital images, including mug shots of suspects believed to be in a particular area, could be transmitted via the app. “It’s only useful to us if people download the app and put it on their phones.”