D.C. officials plan to introduce an app this fall that will let students in violence-prone pockets of the city report suspicious activity, contact law enforcement, and share live updates from their commutes to and from school.
The administration of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced in August that the city would spend $26,400 to partner with LiveSafe, an Arlington, Va., tech company. The move comes in response to students’ repeated pleas to the city to make their commutes safer.
Teens at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School got a chance Thursday to demo the LiveSafe app. For the Anacostia charter school, the issue of safety is personal. In September 2017, senior Zaire Kelly was robbed and fatally shot feet away from his house. Four months later, another student, 19-year-old Paris Brown, was killed in Southeast Washington.
Students created Pathways 2 Power, an anti-gun-violence group, after the deaths of their classmates. The students’ activism is one reason they were chosen to pilot LiveSafe, said Karen Lee, a Thurgood Marshall social studies teacher who serves as the group’s adviser.
“In that space of grief, students came together to talk about their feelings and how their trauma has impacted them,” Lee said. “I think that engaging student voices this early in the process will make this an app people will want to use.”
A representative from LiveSafe guided about a dozen students through the ins and outs of the app. Some features allow users to flag concerns on a shared map, locate police stations and hospitals, and make anonymous incident reports.
Students seemed most excited about SafeWalk, a feature they can use to share their walking or riding status with family or friends in real time. Kelly was on his way home from a college-prep course when he was gunned down two years ago.
Taylor Martin, a senior at Thurgood Marshall, said she could see herself using LiveSafe. The 17-year-old discussed being harassed by men when she’s out with friends or on her own.
“They know I’m young, they know I have my uniform on,” Taylor said. “I just don’t trust people, for real.”
For Taylor and her classmates, gun violence is a constant, lurking fear. As of Friday, there had been 114 homicides in the city this year; 11 of the victims were under the age of 20, according to The Washington Post’s homicide database.
Students who previewed LiveSafe at Thurgood Marshall generally liked the app and said they would have different reasons for using it. One student said LiveSafe would be particularly helpful during track season, when he has to take a bus and a train home from practices and meets.
Students expressed concern about how the app would work on Metro. LiveSafe works best with a reliable cell signal.
D.C. officials said it could take up to two months to gather more community feedback about LiveSafe, persuade school principals to pilot the app and finally roll out the technology to families.
One of the major remaining hurdles is determining who will be on the receiving end of students’ concerns. Through LiveSafe, users can chat with officials and send photos or videos of any perceived threats. Potential partners include school security and the city’s Office of Unified Communications, where 311 calls are logged.
The goal is to test LiveSafe at 20 high schools in seven areas where students experience a disproportionate amount of safety-related incidents, including the Anacostia, Minnesota Avenue, Columbia Heights and NoMa-Gallaudet U Metro stations.
The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education is planning four more focus groups for students, parents and potential community partners; the dates and locations have not been announced, said Jack Pfeiffer, a spokesman for the office.