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Crime-Report Apps May Exaggerate the Problem

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Nextdoor, a social network for neighbors, and another app, Citizen, deliver alerts on local crimes. Both are among the most downloaded news apps today. Last year, , Amazon acquired Ring, which makes a doorbell that doubles as a security camera. The retail giant recently posted a job listing for someone to manage a team of news journalists who would write crime alerts for the app, the New York Times reports. The seemingly constant barrage of news about criminal activity could lead people to conclude that the world is far more dangerous than it is. The reality is that violent crime reports in the U.S. have fallen by 49 percent from 1993 to 2017, the FBI says. “Seeing a lot of crime reports isn’t something that gives you any context,” said Rachel Thomas of the University of San Francisco’s Data Institute and a co-founder of Fast.ai, an independent lab that focuses on artificial intelligence.

Scanning dozens of crime-related alerts won’t tell you much about the state of crime in your neighborhood. Look elsewhere for context, like a company’s business model, Thomas said. Amazon’s Ring offers Neighbors, a free app for getting a comprehensive look at potential criminal activity nearby. When you set it up, you see a map of your neighborhood, with color-coded icons labeled crime, safety or suspicious. Residents can contribute by posting videos recorded with their Ring doorbells to document break-in attempts or by writing posts about police activity. By default, Neighbors displays crimes posted over the last 30 days. That shows an accumulation of incidents, which can unnecessarily give people the impression that their area was being swarmed by criminals. The Times recommends setting the filter on such apps to look at content posted over the last day only, when the number of crime postings in your neighborhood may drop to zero.

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