The Howard County Police Department announced this week that it has unveiled a smartphone app called "iWatch." The technology allows Maryland residents to send the police department crime tips through a number of means: text, photo, email and even video.
"Once users download the app," Police Chief William McMahon said, "they can be the eyes and ears of their communities, with a direct link to law enforcement."
Yet, what is being called "the cutting edge of technology" and a way for police to "gather information [they] need to solve crimes," may lead to more questions than answers. How much weight would a picture of a drug exchange have in court, for example? Would a text be enough for police officers to obtain a search warrant of a home? How will officers know if the tips are legitimate? Would action be taken against individuals who misused the application?
There is nothing wrong with a police department seeking to work together with the community to fight crime. Yet, we must be careful not to create an army of amateur officers who do not know search and seizure and other criminal and constitutional laws.
Depending on the success of the application in Howard County, more counties in Maryland may decide to use iWatch or similar applications. If you are arrested for a Maryland crime and your arrest involves a community tip or informant, remember that you have rights. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you understand those rights and defend against your charges.
Source: The Baltimore Sun, "Howard Police unveil new smartphone app for crime tips," Luke Lavoie, Nov. 19, 2012