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Calhoun County Sheriff first in country to launch crime reporting video cell phone app

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CALHOUN COUNTY, Ala. - People who live in Calhoun County can now do more than just text crime reports to law enforcement.

The sheriff's office is the pilot site for a smart phone app called ICE Black Box.  ICE stands for In Case of Emergency, and the app is part of a Neighborhood Watch Now program from the National Sheriff's Association.

"The Neighborhood Watch Now program is our neighborhood watch on steroids," NSA chief of staff John Thompson said.

"The crime fighting tool that we've had is now going to take it to the next level."

That tool is a cell phone.  Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson announced Thursday the launch of

If someone sees something suspicious, that person can use their smart phone to record video to send to the sheriff.  Through the ICE Black Box app, the video goes straight to an online server.

"Even if the bad guy snatches your phone, that recording has been made, and it won't go away," Amerson said.

As an example, a person walking through a parking lot spots a suspicious man peering into a car and breaking in.  The witness can open the app on their phone and record what happens next.

If the burglar opens the door and steals something, the video is caught on tape and sent to the sheriff's dispatch office.  The person can also touch an option on the screen to request a deputy.

"Inside the dispatch center there will be a map, it will show a location of the call, give the address coordinates of that call, so that law enforcement immediately knows who's calling and where they are," Sheriff Amerson said.

The app creators and law enforcement officers said having a phone out might attract the attention of the person being recorded.  Amerson said he hopes that awareness of the existence of the app will become a deterrent.

Examples in a promotional video for the service involve a domestic violence situation and recording someone who became confrontational due to road rage.

"If you see someone recording you, that recording cannot be erased.  It's going to law enforcement, and if you're doing something that's criminal, we're going to know about it," Amerson said.

Calhoun County is the first test site for this program.  The app is free for citizens, and the county received the technology for free as the first of three test sites.  The Pinal County Sheriff's Office in Florence, Arizona, and the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office in Minneapolis, Minnesota, will also test the program.

"We look for sheriff's offices who are innovative and who like to take a chance to look at new technology and test it out.  Calhoun County has been one in the forefront with us," Thompson said.

"If you don't have a sheriff or agency who buys into the idea, then it really doesn't work, because the excitement's not there.  When I presented this to several sheriffs, Sheriff Amerson was one of the ones thought this is really good stuff, and this could help my community."

While some people may see the service as an invasion of privacy, Amerson said there is nothing wrong with neighborhood watch programs trying to provide law enforcement with information.

"First, don't break the law, and second, is in our legal system in Alabama, you can record anything.  Don't go in someone's house and record without their knowledge, but if there is an emergency, you can make that call," he said.

"If there is an emergency or crime in progress.  You have every right do so."

The National Sheriff's Association hopes to make the service available to other law enforcement agencies by 2015, after the completion of the test runs.  Thompson said here will soon be another similar app available nationwide for reporting animal abuse.

"Those things will come into a national center and then be forwarded to local agencies for processing and review."

The ICE Black Box app is available for download from iTunes or the Google Play store.

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