LA County Sheriff launches app for eyewitnesses to share photos/videos of major emergencies

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The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department launched a software program Thursday that will allow it and other law enforcement agencies to collect videos and photos sent by smartphone users after a disaster or major crime.

The department teamed up with two private technology companies to build LEEDIR – an acronym for Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository.

It’s a public-private software program – with a website and mobile app – that gives the public a central place to upload video and photos after an earthquake, terrorist event or mass shooting.

Law enforcement noticed the need for a way for the public to easily upload a large number of images after the Boston Marathon bombings last year. Boston area law enforcement called on the public to share photos and videos of the aftermath to help with the search for a suspect.

Related: Boston Marathon bombings: FBI releases photos, video of 2 suspects (UPDATED)

“They got a lot of pictures, but they got too many pictures, too much video and it overwhelmed their system,” said Commander Scott Edson with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

Edson said he realized not many law enforcement agencies have the extra bandwidth and extra storage to collect mass amounts of data in a short period of time. He reached out to Citizen Global, a private technology group that was providing uploading services to broadcast media companies seeking to collect videos and photos from eyewitnesses.

“It’s becoming part of our communication fabric,” said Nick Namikas, co-CEO of Citizen Global. “So I think this is the next phase of our see something, say something…it’s now see something, send us something.”

The LEEDIR website and app are not live all the time.

A law enforcement or local government agency must send a request to Citizen Global to activate the uploading program. There’s no cost to the law enforcement agency to use LEEDIR if the emergency affects more than 5,000 people or covers five square miles and at least two public safety agencies respond.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department is currently using LEEDIR to collect photos and videos from people who captured the chaos of a weekend street party in Isla Vista that turned into a melee with more than 100 arrests. Investigators are using it to identify more suspects.

It’s up to law enforcement to provide analysts or investigators to sort through all of the content uploaded to LEEDIR and find potential evidence.

On Thursday, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department had 12 investigators training on the software program from its cyber and major crime units and disaster and recovery response teams.

“I like to call this a flag-waving opportunity,” Edson said. “This is a great opportunity for the public who really wants to catch those guys as badly as any law enforcement agency wants to catch them. Now they’re going to have an opportunity.”

Once the content is uploaded, it belongs to law enforcement, Namikas said. It’s up to each agency to decide how long they want to store the content in the cloud – a service being provided by Amazon.

Edson said most agencies would probably hold the content for a month or two before downloading the photos and video they want to use as potential evidence. The remainder would be deleted.

People can upload content anonymously, Namikas said. Each piece of photo or video comes with a hashtag or fingerprint that identifies it as an original copy. That helps law enforcement determine whether the content is real or not.

For now, LEEDIR is being used as an emergency response tool. But law enforcement agencies and local governments can pay a monthly subscription fee to have it active all the time. The price depends on the population. The lowest rate is $250 a month.

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