Crime Watch 8

New app lets public put spotlight on Indianapolis safety

New public safety app launches in Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A new public safety app is now available for the first time in Indianapolis.

The company hopes to help people avoid running into dangerous situations.

Indianapolis is the first city outside of the East and West coasts to get the app.

The app called Citizen hopes to allow people to access information on crimes or dangerous situations near a certain location at the tap of a finger. The app currently exists in Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Charlotte, N.C.; Detroit; Houston; Los Angeles; Minneapolis-St. Paul; New York City; Philadelphia; Phoenix; the San Francisco Bay area; and Tuscon, Arizona.

Police in Indianapolis say the Citizen app could be very helpful but, if misused, it could cause some issues.

Citizen tracks 911 information and loads it all onto a map and notifies you if something is happening near you.

“We are a unique public safety app that sends real time 911 notifications right to your phone,” said Ben Jealous, Citizen app investor.

The idea is to help people avoid areas where their may be an active scene, a car crash or a dangerous situation.

“This app to me has brought greater peace of mind frankly in a city where we have had a lot of serious safety issues,” Jealous said.

Police fear that the ability to load photos, videos and even livestreams will attract people to these scenes rather than deter them.

Capt. Genae Cook, a spokeswoman for Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, said, “Try not to interject yourself to an area where a crime might be occurring. Allow police officers to arrive, any other type of first responders to arrive. Allow them to do their job.”

The company says they have a team that looks at the photos and videos before they are posted to the app as well as monitor live videos.

“The only videos that you see are videos that will actually help you make a decision about how to keep your family safe or just know that the first responders are there and that the situation is being taken care of,” Jealous said.

He added, “They can see what people on the street are seeing. They can see what people in the building next door are seeing and they can get a better sense of what they are going to be dealing with when they get there.”

Police said they believe that having these kind of notifications at the tip of your finger could be helpful if used appropriately.

“When people want to do some type of video or live feed from a scene, this might be somebody’s worst day. We don’t want to highlight that as entertainment,” Cook said.

The Citizen team says they developed the app in a way that they feel could even be helpful for first responders.

While using Citizens and similar apps, police want to remind you to be cautious about the information you choose to share.

Cook iasd, “There is some information that we need to keep, to keep a case. The information that is brought to us and given to us so that that case may stay credible and that we are not putting out false information.”

The app is available for Apple and Android.

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Hamilton County’s ‘Wellness Unit’ part of nationwide effort to improve mental health among officers

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — An initiative to improve employee well-being at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is among a spate of efforts across the nation to address mental health concerns among officers.

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush announced the department’s new “Wellness Unit”  — devoted to the physical, mental and spiritual health of its deputies, correctional officers and civilian employees — Friday in a Facebook post.

“Our guys really care about the public,” he said Monday in an interview with News 8. “When you see somebody who’s injured or victimized, it really impacts us… We’re only human.”

The Wellness Unit launched in January with funding approved by county council members and commissioners.

Appointments are held off-site at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of employees. Supervisors are not briefed on which employees seek counseling or what they discuss during sessions.

Information gathered during counseling sessions will not be used to demote or discipline employees, and will only be disclosed if required by law, including when somebody poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The department’s entire staff will receive training related to suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, critical incidents, addiction, mindfulness and officer wellness, the sheriff said.

Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); the suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.

Years of daily exposure to stress, trauma and tragedy can have other devastating consequences if appropriate coping skills are not developed, according to Susan Sherer-Vincent, a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcoholism counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist involved in launching the Wellness Unit.

“Think of the hurricanes that come in, in Florida, and think of the palm trees where they bend,” she explained. “But then, what happens afterwards? They go back up. That’s called resilience. We want our officers to bend, not break.”

Until approximately 3 to 5 years ago, officers were often conditioned to “pull [themselves] up by the bootstraps and go to the next call” instead of addressing personal struggles, Sherer-Vincent said.

Cultivating resiliency can be difficult within a law enforcement culture that equates mental health challenges with “weakness,” she said.

“[Officers] are trained to have the warrior mentality,” Sherer-Vincent told News 8. “Truly, they would have been made fun of [in the past for seeking counseling].”

She compared strong, silent officers with underdeveloped coping skills to California’s famed redwood trees.

“They’re pretty sturdy. But what would happen if you took an ax and hit those every single day, day after day, for years? They would eventually fall,” she said.

Quakenbush credits his wife, church and non-law enforcement friends with providing “a really good support system.”

“But sometimes, you need a professional,” he said, urging employees to “talk through” negative emotions instead of turning to alcohol and other substances for temporary relief.

Several internal cases that resulted in disciplinary action during his year-long tenure as sheriff may have been prevented with wellness-focused intervention, Quakenbush said.

He was unable to comment on personnel matters. 

Sources within the department indicated some of the cases involved employees with substance abuse issues that had escalated over time, possibly as a result of work-related stress that had gone unaddressed. 

“I wouldn’t say that [disciplinary action] was happening often,” Quakenbush told News 8. “But seeing it happen and knowing that we probably could have done something about it made it impactful and something that we wanted to make a priority.”

Hamilton County announced its Wellness Unit days after New York City police officials revealed plans to hire a team of psychologists to combat a spike in officer suicides.

On Feb. 13, Indianapolis police officials said they planned to swear in the department’s first full-time therapy dog by the end of March.

  • FIND SUPPORT: Learn more about supporting law enforcement wellness on NAMI.org

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