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MBTA Promotes New Safety App

Newton Teenager Carries Gun On T

For The Heights

Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

This fall, a new app for iOS and Android devices joined the lineup of mobile apps designed by independent developers for MBTA patrons. The app’s title, “See Say,” concisely emphasizes the MBTA’s goal of encouraging users to report suspicious and criminal activity quickly and directly to the Boston Transit Police: see something dangerous, say something about it.

The app was developed in partnership with ELERTS Corporation, based in Weymouth, Mass., as one of the many steps the MBTA is taking to ensure the safety of its riders. See Say allows two-way communication between riders and the Transit Police. Riders can anonymously send messages concerning suspicious behavior as well as receive BOLO (“be on the lookout”) and missing persons alerts. The app will also provide details about incidents that other riders report via See Say, and users can comment back on alerts. All reports sent through the app travel to a web console at the Transit Police dispatch center to be managed by a transit dispatcher.

Beyond providing the option of anonymity in reporting an incident, the app allows discretion to the point of automatically turning off a smartphone’s flash if the user chooses to take a photo of the suspicious activity.  Conveniently designed for the finicky cell phone service areas that characterize the transit environment, the app will send reports as soon as a signal has been regained. In addition, the built-in T-Alerts component informs riders of service delays and issues.


“It’s the whole idea of using social media technology to report a problem, and to be able to contact police,” explained Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan. MacMillan remarks how witnesses can seamlessly take photos, and that the communication between a witness and police is comparable to instant messaging. He also notes that somewhere down the road, the app will support video streaming.


The technological basis of the app is not only to improve the method of reporting incidences, but to also engage the reporter. “You always used to keep a dime inside your hat just in case you had to use a payphone,” MacMillan commented, referring to the days before advances in technology paved the way for more efficient and reliable methods for reporting crime.  


Under the new general management of Beverly A. Scott, formerly of Atlanta’s transit system (MARTA), the MBTA continues to highly value the safety of its customers in the upmost importance, and See Say is just one of the ways to promote safe experiences with the fifth-largest transit system in the country. Yet the app’s unveiling comes in the wake of an incident involving four Newton teens in the possession of weapons on the Green Line.


During the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 26, a 16-year-old Newton boy dropped a loaded semiautomatic handgun on the floor of a Green Line train headed outbound. A passenger who witnessed the boy drop the gun notified police, who chased the teens as they fled on foot from the Newton Centre Station where they exited the train.


Officers stopped the boy on Chesley Road and recovered the handgun after it had been tossed into the bushes. The teen was arrested along with the three other suspects, two 18-year-olds and one 15-year-old, all from Newton. The two juveniles are facing multiple firearm and ammunition charges and a conspiracy charge. The two 18-year-olds are charged with Class C drug possession with intent to distribute.

In 2009, the MBTA reported that crime was at its lowest level in 30 years, while a comparison of statistics from 2010 and 2011 showed an increase in larceny, one of the most common crimes, which rose from 602 cases (61 percent of reported incidences) in 2010 to 771 (66 percent) in 2011. Yet the most common crime of all is fare evasion, which does not exactly place an individual in imminent danger, but does help explain the projected $185 million budget deficit for 2013.


In other efforts to further prevent crime, the MBTA lists numerous safety tips on its website, www.mbta.com. While some of the guidelines seem obvious, like avoiding talking to strangers in isolated areas, the MBTA warns against seemingly innocent habits like wearing headphones and listening to music. The safety section of the website also outlines the importance of informing children and young riders on how to be safe, especially if travelling without an adult. Another section highlights how to avoid pickpocketing in crowded transit areas, a crime that accounted for 8 percent in the larceny breakdown for 2011.  
The MBTA strongly encourages riders to report any suspicious activity they see, and as MacMillan emphasizes, the Transit Police would rather receive false calls than to have a potential danger go unreported.

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