Concerns raised over ‘Police-to-Citizen’ website

Kierra Frazier, Senior Reporter

DeKALB — After a demonstration of the DeKalb Police Department’s new software, “Police-to-Citizen,” City Council members and residents showed concerns that certain aspects of the website could have a negative impact on the city.

The website includes a list of recent arrests with mugshots, a recent incidents page that allows residents to report crimes, an event map and search with an interactive map of incidents in DeKalb, a security watch for residents to request that officers check on their homes and a bike registration page, according to the agenda.

Residents and council members said they were concerned that the mapping feature could prevent potential DeKalb residents from moving in. The online map shows a collection of red dots for each crime that has occurred.

Resident Will Heinisch wrote a letter to the council and said the community will benefit from having a transparent police department, but he worries the mapping feature may be misinterpreted by online users.

“I believe the data could be misinterpreted or have a negative effect, specifically looking at the Annie Glidden North area,” Heinisch said. “Because of a much higher density, that area is naturally going to show more activity. I do not want to discourage new residents from coming into that area.”

Mayor Jerry Smith said the software comes from a direct result of requests from citizens to see more regarding police activity. The requests came following the Elonte McDowell arrest which generated a new dialogue between the community and police.

“The first that I heard that this was going to roll out on our website was this past week,” Smith said. “After having talked with our city manager, my first reaction was, ‘don’t post it yet, this is something that I think the City Council needs to have dialogue on.’”

DeKalb Commander Craig Woodruff said the website doesn’t include the NIU residence halls because the NIU Police Department regulates that area.

“[The software] is really kind of built upon three ideas of transparency from the police department […] There’s a couple of different ways to communicate with the police department through this, as well as information sharing,” Woodruff said.

Third Ward Alderperson Tracy Smith said as a former DeKalb police officer, he knows how much of a burden this takes off of the department’s shoulders but still sees the concerns of some residents.

“I’m for this,” Smith said. “I’ve heard from a couple of people and maybe some tweaks to the red dots, but all in all, we have to remember anybody, anyone can FOIA every piece of information the police department has, and they have to produce it so there is a way through this program to reduce [the FOIA requests.]”

Council members agreed that they would be okay with the software being made available to the public this week if the map portion wasn’t included.

“I think that I need to bring this back to my constituents,” First Ward Alderperson Carolyn Morris said. “I don’t know what to think about [the software]. There are a lot of potentially unforeseen consequences, but I don’t know, I sincerely don’t know what to think. It sounds really exciting, and I like it personally, but there may be consequences that I haven’t considered yet.”