About a year ago, Herndon native Shayan Pahlevani was robbed at gunpoint on 12th St. NE near his Capitol Hill residence.
The robber’s accomplice sprayed mace in Pahlevani’s eyes, virtually immobilizing him— after the men ran, Pahlevani could only see enough to find his wife’s name in his phone’s contacts. She had to call the police for him.
In the months following his attack, his car was ransacked—twice. In all three cases, the criminals got away.
These experiences led Pahlevani and his brother Eman to found CrimePush, a D.C.-based start-up developing security-related smartphone apps.
CrimePush’s eponymous free app allows the user to log one’s location, report incidents to the police department with attached audio, video and photographic evidence, or send a distress message to emergency contacts. It also includes a flashlight function and a modified Google Map, highlighting places where help might be available like gas stations and hospitals.
“Our job is to make the job of the police easier,” Pahlevani said.
CrimePush already has been downloaded more than 100,000 times, and the company has partnered with 56 police departments and 10 universities nationwide. For a monthly licensing fee, these clients can “white-label” the CrimePush app, releasing it under a new name and customizing it to fit the needs of their population, who can still use it for free. For example, Dartmouth College recently released the app under the name “DartReport”, which allows users to report “hazing,” among other crimes, to campus police. The university can also send campus-wide text notifications through the app.
Even if smartphone owners are unaffiliated with these institutions, they can download the original CrimePush app. Incident reports will be sent to the appropriate police department based on the user’s location.
Licensing fees vary depending on population size. Universities with more than 25,000 students, for example, pay $2,000 a month — those with a smaller enrollment pay $1,000. Compared to the cost of installing blue-light emergency phone stations on campuses, which can be more than $200,000, CrimePush represents a cheaper option, Pahlevani said.
Though the company was only founded in February of this year, and the app’s beta launch was in July, CrimePush is already profitable. The company declined to say how much money it is making, but it projected its revenue would reach $310,000 in 2012, according to Pahlevani.
The company’s largest expense these days is development, much of which is outsourced to Costa Rica (Indian developers didn’t share CrimePush’s time zone, Pahlevani said). CrimePush’s six-person team works largely out of a converted garage in upper Chevy Chase.
In at least two instances, evidence gathered through CrimePush has been used in court.
“We busted a meth lab in Alabama,” Pahelvani said. More locally, he explained, a user collected evidence of a fugitive living in a tire store in Dale City, Va. Convictions were made in both cases.
In addition to violent crime and theft reports, a significant chunk of crimes reported are related to drug trafficking and gangs — in areas with high gang activity, it’s common for CrimePush users to report people with certain gang-related tattoos.
But CrimePush has some detractors. Some critics feel the ease of reporting could increase the number of fraudulent reports, potentially overwhelming the police station.
Pahlevani already has a rebuttal. Unlike making anonymous calls from a payphone, “people are less likely to make fraudulent calls from your smartphone because it’s tied to your bill,” he noted.
Other critics are wary that the app could infringe on a citizen’s privacy. In fact, CrimePush had initially received a complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union. A discussion ensued and instead of pursuing the matter, the ACLU worked with CrimePush to develop an app guiding New Hampshire voters through voter identification laws, and allowing users to report voting irregularities. The app is called “NHCLU Vote 2012”.
“We’re not telling you to go tell on your neighbors,” Pahlevani said.
“Ideally we we want to turn this into something that empowers the user,” Patrick Kim, CrimePush chief technology officer said.
CrimePush’s current challenge is keeping up with outside interest in its technology. CrimePush has patented the multi-channel technology allowing users to gather and send audio, video and photographic evidence, which lends itself naturally to emergency reporting but is easily applicable to other fields.
Prospective clients are as diverse as the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit helping to prosecute animal abusers, to the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a U.S.-based non-profit supporting humanitarian efforts in Syria, to various international police departments.
However, until the company secures more investments and can hire more employees, CrimePush’s current growth rate “is not sustainable,” Pahlevani said. The company is seeking a $1 million to beef up its sales and marketing and product development teams. “Emergency services are such a growing business,” he said.
CrimePush has resolved not to sell what may be its most valuable asset — the data collected from the crimes reported.
Though they’re considering conducting predictive crime analysis in the future, “we don’t resell or redistribute that data,” Eman Pahlevani said, though Kim noted that police deparments are entitled to whatever data will help them prevent crime or to “get justice.”