Grande Prairie entrepreneur's crime-fighting app lauded by RCMP

An entrepreneur in Grande Prairie, Alta., has launched a mobile phone app to help fight crime. Local RCMP say the initiative has already assisted in several investigations.

Local RCMP say phone app has assisted in several investigations

The Lightcatch app allows users to alert nearby members to crimes via text, photos and video. (Darren Boyer)

As rural communities on the Prairies grapple with high crime rates, an entrepreneur in Grande Prairie, Alta., has launched a new mobile phone app he thinks will help.

Local RCMP say the initiative has already assisted in several investigations while being tested on Facebook.

The free Lightcatch app allows users to alert nearby members to a crime via text, photos and video. Witnesses can provide updates that show up on a map in real time and alert other users in the area.

"Anything that happens inside of that area, they get an alert on, and it shows them right on a map," said Darren Boyer, owner of IT support company PCIT. "This is where you are and this is where the incident occurred and this is what to look for. Together you can build a trail of evidence."

Darren Boyer says 42 vehicles were recovered during the test phase of Lightcatch. (Darren Boyer)

Boyer launched Lightcatch last week. But during an 18-month trial period on a 9,000-member Facebook page called Theft Net, 42 stolen vehicles were recovered along with more than $1 million in stolen goods, he said.

One recovered vehicle belonged to Jonathan Wimbush. On a work site near downtown Grande Prairie last September, he watched a thief drive off in his silver GMC pickup truck.

Details posted by Wimbush on Theft Net were swiftly shared multiple times as updates came in from members who spotted his truck around town. Within hours, the truck was back in his possession after the thief ditched it.

"It was awesome how many people shared the post of the stolen truck, so that more people on Facebook and more people in the community have their eyes out looking for the vehicle," said Wimbush.

The initiative earned the praise of local RCMP at a meeting hosted by Grande Prairie Crime Prevention a few months ago.

"There was no opposition by the local detachment, and in fact they were applauded for their community-mindedness," Insp. John Respet wrote to CBC.  "Their Facebook page has helped in several investigations." 

The launch of Lightcatch comes as other rural Alberta communities look for answers to deal with rampant property crime.

Business owners in the northeastern hamlet of Conklin recently spoke out in frustration and issued a plea for stronger RCMP presence.

Wanda Dolen, who used the service to locate a stolen vintage car that belonged to her late son, said Lightcatch could help lighten the load on overburdened RCMP officers.

As she stood in the RCMP detachment last August to report the theft of the 1968 Cutlass 442, she posted on Theft Net.

"Within not even five minutes I had messages from five different people, where the car was," said Dolen. "So I threw my phone at my cop, literally, and I said 'There's your answers. Go get my car.' "

She estimated that half of her little Clairmont community outside Grande Prairie has signed up for the service, which also helped her husband recover a trailer and skidoo two months later.

"Within an hour we had somebody that was out in the oilfield that found the trailer and the skidoo," Dolen said. "I recommend it to anyone."
Wanda Dolen says her stolen 1968 Cutlass 442 was located within minutes. (Wanda Dolen)

Boyer saw the need for Lightcatch after repeatedly hearing about property theft problems his customers were dealing with.

He said he consulted with RCMP and a former police officer to ensure Lightcatch had built-in safeguards to prevent false accusations and satisfy privacy laws. For instance, faces are initially blurred until there was evidence of a crime, he said. Anyone who repeatedly contributes false information will be blocked.

"In our eighteen months we've never seen a public example of somebody taking it into their own hands after it's posted," he said.

Boyer said there are ways to profit from Lightcatch, such as helping users optimize their crime footage. But 97 per cent of the service will be free.

"When you have a community that works together and they do it respectfully and they turn it over to law enforcement, you have a community that's aligned with the law," said Boyer. "We are a small company and we have this hope that we can change things. We've seen it locally."