Austin Hartman, a second-year in chemical engineering, said he didn’t even know his neighbor had been stabbed to death over the weekend in their off-campus neighborhood until he read about it on Twitter hours after the incident.
Columbus Police found 21-year-old John Austin Snyder “critically injured” in front of 2142 Summit St. on Sunday, a Columbus Police Department press release stated. Snyder was transported to Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, but he died at approximately 4 a.m. Detectives have arrested a suspect, 23-year-old Alexander N. Delap of East Frambes Avenue.
Snyder was a student at Columbus State Community College and Delap is an OSU student, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
But Allen White and Max Buck want to ensure that in situations like these, students have a medium to learn about and report possible crimes in their neighborhoods more quickly in order to share safety information.
The two third-year students are developing an app called Crimenut that will allow users who are registered with an OSU email address to anonymously report suspicious or criminal activity near them, alerting other app users in real time to the potential threat.
White said the team was motivated to pursue the app in part because university crime alerts are primarily issued for on-campus crimes after the fact, so students are sometimes unaware of crimes or potentially dangerous situations in the off-campus area.
“Being students here, we are not involved enough in the actual citizen safety aspect of Ohio State,” said White, a double-major in computer science engineering and aerospace engineering. “We think people could take a more active role in keeping Ohio safe, especially around campus.”
Justin Moss, spokesman for the Office of Administration and Planning, said in an email that OSU issues public safety notices in accordance with the Clery Act when “there is a continuing threat to the campus community, which has occurred on campus property or on public property immediately adjacent to and accessible from campus, and a public safety notice could provide information individuals need to make decisions about their own safety as they go about their daily activities.”
Moss added that OSU sends Buckeye Alerts when “there is a verified, ongoing and immediate threat to the campus community where individuals need immediate information to take action for their safety.”
White said Crimenut will seek to reduce instances when students are unaware of crimes that are reported through these university channels by allowing students to notify each other about safety threats in a more instant manner.
“They have the liberty to report really anything,” he said. “We would like it to be any sort of thing that makes them uncomfortable and that they think the community needs to know about.”
Buck, a third-year in computer and information science, said the app can be used to report small events, such as bike thefts, to which police cannot assign as many resources.
“(If) Allen gets his bike stolen, (he can) toss it up on the website. I’m four blocks down, and I see a guy walking down the street with two bikes,” he said hypothetically, recalling a similar incident from his freshman year. “Suddenly, we have a bike missing, and we have a description of a guy who could potentially be the culprit.”
Buck said that he wants to separate Crimenut from community watches, which he said people often abandon when they don’t immediately see results or which can increase fear in a community.
“We are not a community watch app. We are a safety app,” he said. “We want to make people feel comfortable being anywhere on campus.”
Moss said the university is “supportive of efforts to make our community safer” and that “active engagement from all community members is a critical piece of this.”
“It is also very important to highlight that efforts to reduce, detect and deter crime will be more effective when suspicious and/or criminal activity is reported to the local law enforcement agency,” Moss said. “The safety of our students, faculty and staff is our top priority — we encourage everyone to report crime in a prompt and accurate manner by calling 911 for emergencies or 292-2121 for non-emergencies.”
White said the app is not a substitute for contacting authorities, and users are prompted by the app to contact police prior to creating a Crimenut report.
“When you report something, you are immediately prompted to either call or text the Columbus police or the OSU police because that is obviously the first priority,” he said. “We’re not dispatching a crime-fighting unit, so they need to be notified.”
In an effort to verify information or to discredit false reports, Crimenut will allow users to provide feedback and comments on posts. Posts that receive a certain amount of negative feedback will be removed by the app. Despite the anonymity associated with accounts, users who are frequently reported for providing false information can be blocked from the app.
The developers said the app also has a research goal which aims to increase overall community safety by determining trends in crimes around campus, information that could then be used by local police departments.
“We are also running data on all of the published information that the police put online every day,” Buck said. “To be able to compare the reports that are coming in (to the police) to the reports that we have and to see what type of crimes are being reported and what type of crimes aren’t being reported — that kind of matchup is something that we are really interested in.”
Crimenut is currently in its beta phase, and the developers are seeking student participation in testing the app to determine how students will use it before the team introduces new features.
White said that once 1,000 users have registered to participate in the beta phase at crimenut.com, the team will send an email to those users with a link to download the app.