WhatsApp Helps Guatemalan Police, Local Residents Fight Crime

WhatsApp Helps Guatemalan Police, Local Residents Fight Crime

By Dialogo
August 04, 2015

A group of Guatemala City residents and police is using WhatsApp, a cellphone app that began as a messenger service among friends, to fight violence and organized crime.

The app has become an important tool to improve security in parts of the nation’s capital. Residents use it to send alerts so officials can quickly dispatch the officers who are closest to the trouble spot, helping the National Civil Police (PNC) decrease its response time from 30 to 10 minutes. That's an improvement over the past approach, when the PNC could only be contacted through the 110 emergency line.

“With 110, the operator receives the call, and the operator communicates with the police station for that sector. Then, they coordinate personnel from the closest substation so they can send out a patrol. But with WhatsApp, I see the alert and can immediately coordinate with the patrol car for that sector, and we are on the scene in five minutes because I am on the radio frequency and next to the telephone,” said PNC Deputy Director of Operations Elvin Juárez.

He's the founder of the program, along with Carlos Proesamer, a resident of the capital’s Zone 10 and former chair of a local security council; Juárez is also one of two officials who receives incoming alerts from the app, the other being PNC Station 13 chief Juan Pablo Archila.

Expanding the program

The initiative began in December 2013 and is operating in Guatemala City Zones 5, 10, 13, 14, 15, and 16, in addition to the neighboring municipalities of Santa Catarina Pinula, San José Pinula, and Fraijanes; overall, the region is home to about 650,000 residents, and features commercial sections with banks and large hotels that attract criminals.

“The goal is eventually to have several networks with representatives from the 2,000 local security councils in the area covered by Police Station 13,” Proesamer said. Additionally, law enforcement officials plan to extend the WhatsApp tool’s reach into other parts of Guatemala City, including those monitored by Police Stations 11, 14, and 16.

Screening process for residents

Joining the alert group isn’t easy: residents must be invited to join by an existing member and all candidates must be approved by group members and police.

“There are various screening processes before being added to the group,” Proesamer said. “An applicant must give their full name to the police, who will give their approval after conducting a background check.” Group members are also prohibited from posting chain messages; they must report all crimes on the app in real time, and can’t identify anyone by name.

The rigorous screening process and terms of use have created a network that has helped the PNC track down criminals throughout Guatemala City. On June 3, for example, police captured alleged kidnapper Maximiliano Pocón Vix, 34, after one of the WhatsApp group’s 100 members took his picture and posted it. After confirming there was a warrant for his arrest, PNC agents took Pocón Vix into custody where he had been standing in the same place for a full hour.

Moreover, WhatsApp has also helped forge a bond between residents and the police who protect them.

“We see that the PNC has started paying attention to the things we report,” Alberto Jiménez, a WhatsApp group member, said. “This gives us a certain sense of security, and brings us closer to the police.”