It’s not an emergency, but I need to call the police. Maybe I’ve been in a traffic collision and need to file a police report. Maybe I want to file a noise complaint. Maybe I need to report some property damage. Maybe I have some time-sensitive information about that bank robbery.
None of these are emergency situations; calling 9-1-1 would be irresponsible. But I don’t necessarily know how to get the right person on the phone. It’s one thing to look up the non-emergency phone number for my hometown—that’s easy. These kinds of things might come up when I’m on the road, though, and I probably won’t even know what police jurisdiction applies.
My phone knows exactly where I am and—wouldn’t you know—it’s very good at making phone calls too. Couldn’t it spare me at least one headache in moment of stress?
Build an app that makes it super-simple to dial the non-emergency police number for the current jurisdiction. It should have a nice big “Call” button, along with some basic information such as the name of the police department I’m about to dial and their business hours.
href="tel:", you should be able to build this as a pure web applicaiton. That way I could use it from my mobile browser right away. If looking up a police contact number is too inconvenient, I’m definitely not going to search the App Store for your Call-the-Cops app first.
The Tricky Bit
Two main pieces of data will drive your app: police department contact information and jurisdiction boundaries. I expect contact information will be the easier of the two to harvest from various corners of the Internet. Jurisdiction boundaries (the real value-add of an app like this) will be tougher to come by. If you have trouble finding a good data source, as a stop-gap you could just locate the closest police department by absolute distance.
Some areas have a 3-1-1 number that is used as a non-emergency alternative to 9-1-1. That’s excellent; it’s just not very widespread. I know 9-1-1 is going to work everywhere I go. 3-1-1? Not so much.