If adults have neighborhood watch programs, kids and teens now have a mobile phone app that allows them to report hate crimes and certain types of bullying.
The Simon Wisenthal Center, a human rights organization, recently unveiled what it calls the “Combat Hate” app aimed at children and teenagers.
The app has been endorsed by Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge David S. Wesley and Los Angeles Police Department's deputy chief Michael Downing, who oversees the counter terrorism and special operations bureau.
“In a sense what we are really doing here in Los Angeles is launching a virtual community watch,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wisenthal Center.
The free app gives young people the option to upload a photo of an incident they want to report or type out a summary of what they witnessed.
The app gives definitions of what a hate crime is and what a hate incident is, such as types of protected hate speech. It encourages people to report "digital terrorism" defined on the app as use of the Internet by extremists to target enemies and recruit supporters and funds.
Youngsters can report theses incidents anonymously. The information goes to the Center’s Digital Terrorism and Hate Project department where staff will review the submissions. If staff receives a report that can be considered criminal, Cooper said they will send the information to law enforcement officials.
Detective Martin Pinedo with LAPD’s hate crime unit said the number of hate crimes in the city of Los Angeles fell by four percent last year compared to 2012. But he believes there’s a lot of under-reporting.
“If someone who is Latino get’s targeted, it creates fear in other Latinos,” he said. “It can affect an entire community.”
For kids that want to report bullying, which isn’t technically a hate crime, the mobile app links to the federal stopbullying.gov website for tips on dealing with that type of harassment.
“Technically bullying is not considered a hate incident or crime and should not be reported here,” the mobile app states. “Unless the bullying was motivated by hatred of the person’s race, religion disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”
Sixteen-year-old Nico Vega carries a bass voice with broad shoulders but he wasn’t all muscle in middle school. His classmates teased him about his weight.
“I could walk away for a second, but yet they would still catch up with me in the end because we still have the same class,” he said.
Vega said with the Internet, hate and bullying can follow you anywhere your smartphone goes.
“There difference today in 2014 when those incidents take place, it often doesn’t end when you go home,” Cooper said.
If the Center receives a report of harassment that violates a social media company’s policies, “we will draw a straight line to the company for you on your behalf and on behalf of the community to try to combat the hate,” Cooper said.
Cooper wasn't specific on how long the Center would keep the data or information reported. He said they would respond immediately to reports submitted and determine whether further action is needed.