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SANTA CRUZ, CA -- Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel was vacationing with his wife in Italy last fall when he picked up his iPad and, for fun, decided to check in on his troops back in California.
Using an app developed for the iPhone, Vogel was able to listen to – in real time — radio calls being fielded by officers on the day shift.
From his hotel room in Rome, Vogel listened to the squawking sound of Santa Cruz cops being dispatched to a variety of incidents.
Then he turned off the app and got back to his vacation.
Vogel and his department last year won a prestigious award for that iPhone app, one of the first such consumer-focused apps of its kind in the nation.
Last year, The Helen Putnam Award of Excellence from the League of California Cities cited the Santa Cruz P.D. for technical innovations — the only award of its kind in the state bestowed on a law enforcement agency.
In April 2012, the same app was expanded to the Droid system, providing even more public access to the Santa Cruz P.D.’s scanner feed, online crime maps, videos, photos and Facebook, Twitter and department blogs.
“It’s really about community engagement and transparency,” said Vogel, 49, who spent 25 years at the Santa Cruz P.D. working his way up to chief — a post he’s held since December 2010.
“People consume information in more ways than they used to, and it’s important for us to put the information in a medium they’re using,” Vogel said.
The Santa Cruz P.D. receives three to five crime tips per day via its mobile app, and one to three of these tips — predominately related to illegal drugs — are legitimate, Vogel said.
“My Street Crimes Unit has made a few notable drug arrests based upon crime tips received via the mobile app,” Vogel said.
Working with two graduate students from U.C. Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz P.D. started developing the app in October 2010. The two graduate students were so pleased with the app that they created a company, mobilePD, to develop it for law enforcement agencies nationwide (see www.gomobilepd.com for more information).
More than 10,000 area residents have downloaded the Santa Cruz P.D. iPhone app since it debuted in March 2011, according to Vogel. The Droid app has been downloaded by about 5,000 area residents since it came out April 20, he said.
Vogel, who lives in Santa Cruz, a city of about 60,000 (the university accounts for about 15,000), said he uses the mobile app to see crime alerts within one mile of his home.
The public finds the news feed popular, as well as scanner feeds, Vogel said. Users also can subscribe to a crime-mapping feature that pinpoints were laws are being broken.
“This mobile application provides our community with a remarkable amount of information in the palm of their hand,” Vogel said. “It’s an essential step toward ensuring greater access to our department.
“This easy-to-use interface will provide an unprecedented amount of information to the consumer — regardless of where they are in the world.”