This was built by me and a few of the other Knight Scholars in my cohort at the Medill School at a hackathon sponsored by The Media Consortium. It’s an SMS alert system designed for block clubs.

The repo is on GitHub.

From the README:

BeatBox is a mobile application to help neighborhood watch groups in cities like Chicago share information about public safety incidents. Users sign up as part of a beat and send alerts via SMS or mobile web. A “beat leader” then receives the alert and can choose to forward it on to other users in the beat.

It was created over the course of one weekend at The Media Consortium’s Mobile Hackathon by Shane Shifflett, Steve Melendez, Geoff Hing and Chris Keller. Bernie Leung created a prototype for an Android app based on BeatBox.

Shane Shifflett came up with the idea after reporting about muggings in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood. He found that even though there was a community that was tightly knit and concerned about neighborhood safety but, because of language barriers, was unwilling to notify police, or waited hours to find an English speaker before reporting the incident. BeatBox lets neighbors share alerts in real time and saves documentation to show the police at beat meetings.

Some important features and design principles

  • Accessible technology: We want lots of different communities including lots of different people to be able to use this with the technology they have. Our initial prototype works through both SMS and mobile web.
  • Don’t freak out!: Too often neighborhood safety alerts create more gossip or fear instead of useful information or community. This app prioritizes small chunks of useful information and generates data as a starting point for conversations with neighbors, police, politicians and other community stakeholders. All alerts are moderated by a human to try use community judgment to decide which information is important to share in real time

Different communities

This app could be used both by communities with strong neighborhood watch groups and a working relationship with the police and communities that are less cohesive or have a different relationship with the police.

Communities who are concerned about safety but are worried about profiling or harassment could use the system for community-based responses to safety.