SA real-time crime reporting app SPOTTM: like Batman in your pocket


There is a surge of transportation mobile apps kicking off in South Africa using technologies such as GPS and mobile data to connect potential passengers with available cab drivers. While transportation might be one of South Africa’s many issues, one that is more hungry for change is the disconnect between citizens and authorities when it comes to crime. In comes SPOTTM — a crowdsourcing mobile application to help fight and inform people about crime in real-time.

SPOTTM allows victims of crime, or concerned citizens, to immediately report a felony or misdemeanour to thousands of anonymous people in the community (aka “Spotters”) located in their area, or instantly alert family and police during an emergency.

Based in Cape Town, South Africa, SPOTTM is a service developed by Lawrence Suss and Beverley Paly who self-funded the company going by the same name. Since launching earlier this year, the startup is planning on releasing its product at the end of the first quarter of 2014.

CEO and Co-Founder Beverley Paly holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Business Management and has founded Hair Emporium. She was also Country Manager for the non-profit Vision Africa.

Born Capetonian and currently residing in London, co-founder and CIO Lawrence Suss is a self-taught web and graphic designer, and a serial entrepreneur passionate about launching successful startups in Africa. Apart from SPOTTM, he is also behind MacBasket which specialises in providing deals on Mac software.

“I was hijacked in Cape Town and as I stood there waiting for the police, I knew that the limited number of police in the neighbourhood would make it difficult for them to track my car,” says Suss. “If there was a real-time way for me to notify thousands of neighbours to be on the lookout, it would certainly increase the chances of the police locating my car before it left my neighbourhood.”

In comes crowdsourcing

Of the country’s 51.7-million people, over two thirds of South Africa’s citizens live in urban areas where crime is most prevalent. With a mobile penetration rate of 65.7%, South Africa has the greatest number of citizens with access to the internet in Southern Africa — enabling concerned citizens to communicate, inform each other and take action in real-time.

Smartphone usage in the country is on the rise considerably and while the SPOTTM app will initially launch on Android, there will be a mobi website and further roll-out to other mobile platforms in the future.

Although there is currently a plethora of communities relying on SMS, social media, chat services and so forth, SPOTTM aims to become the one stop shop for mobile reporting. There have been similar platforms such as Mobilitate which is a spin-off of the UK-based MySociety, and popular community reporting site FixMyStreet. The startup notes that there are already other local services in South Africa such as Turn It Around and Shout SA but these, however, have not seen a great uptake in South Africa’s communities.

So how does it work?

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It’s quite simple really. The free app has three main buttons.

The Green Button allows victims of crime to quickly and easily report the incident with the additional option of uploading audio, video, and photo evidence. The report, which also contains geo-location and time data, is received and vetted by the SPOTTM helpdesk, which is then forwarded to Spotters and the local law enforcement agencies.

Then there’s a Red Button which is a proactive feature that allows SPOTTM users to alert family or friends and police, should they find themselves in dangerous situations. Clicking the “Sound-the-Alarm” icon sends a location based SOS alert to three pre-selected contacts and local law enforcement.

In less threatening situations, by activating the “Walk-me-Home” icon, your contacts are able to virtually walk you home via GPS.

In addition to crime related reports, you can also log service delivery requests to local councils. By tapping the Amber Button and uploading images or videos you can seamlessly alert local councils about service requests e.g. burst water pipes, faulty street lights, potholes etc.

The SPOTTM service provides a holistic approach to reporting incidents — whether that be crimes, traffic incidents or service delivery issues.

With this app, SPOTTM hopes to make revenue by charging the police and other authorities for sending identikits to Spotters as well as those wishing to notify Spotters beyond their free radius. Furthermore, the app plans to gather money through advertising.

This startup is definitely heading for world domination with a five year goal of becoming the platform of choice in Southern Africa for reporting crime and non-crime related incidents. Suss details its significance:

“It gives communities a united voice to bring social change to their neighbourhood. It helps police and government be more accountable to the people. This helps root out corruption and apathy from those having to respond to these reports; seeing that SPOTTM tracks and documents reports and responses to those reports.”

It’s all about cooperation. For initiatives such as these to work successfully, we can only hope that a service such as SPOTTM manages to gather the support it needs from the community as well as authorities.


Jacques Coetzee: Staff Reporter


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