Will police wake up to social media?

Posted: May 11, 2011 by chrisbagley in F3 Technologies, Interactive Defense, Uncategorized
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The Cobb County Police Department robocalled me a few minutes after midnight to tell me about a 12-year-old who went missing after last being seen at East Cobb Middle School, about two miles from my house.

I’m assuming that the call was at least targeted to people who lived within a certain distance from the school, or within its attendance area, and I hate to criticize any effort to find a missing child, but this didn’t strike me as the most effective or efficient way to do it. The boy had been missing for about 10 hours, and there wasn’t any indication that he was in imminent danger. Rightly or wrongly, midnight robocalls annoy people, and may even feed into a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” dynamic in which people begin to ignore even useful alerts.

The Interactive Defense System allows a police department to send out targeted alerts based on residents’ addresses and preferences such as text message vs. e-mail vs. automatic voice call. Residents choose the method of delivery and the phone number or e-mail address to be used, so each message has a substantial chance of triggering a productive response.

IDS is built like a social-media platform, and alerts are just one of its many functions, of course. Had Cobb County police been using it yesterday, they could’ve disseminated a photo of the boy instead of relying on the extremely rough description “blue shorts and white shirt” that I half-heard as I was rubbing my eyes in the wee hours.

It looks like the 12-year-old boy who went missing yesterday afternoon was safe and sound early this morning. Whether or not the robocalls helped in this particular case is anybody’s guess.

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