A new mobile app called On Camera claims to be 10 times faster than calling 911, and it also vows to protect users during an emergency by allowing them to video chat with a trained police officer at the press of a button. At first glance, this app appears to be the perfect solution to providing someone with a sense of security when they are in a potentially dangerous setting. I know that is exactly what my mom thought, considering that she called me immediately after watching the trending Facebook video about the app and told me to download it.
But as I began the process of purchasing the app, I learned that it costs $17.99 a month. That’s an annual fee of $215.88. I know you can’t put a price on safety, but that’s a lot of money for something that may or may not be successful in warding off an attacker.
Don’t get me wrong. If the app were free, or even if the app were $5 a month, I would likely download it. You never know, it could potentially work in some situations. But when you consider the app’s downfalls, it is evident that the cost outweighs benefits.
On Camera’s most obvious flaw is that it’s an app. It is simply someone’s face on a cellphone. I know that if I were planning to attack someone (not that I would, but hypothetically), a video of someone dressed in a police officer’s uniform telling me about the consequences of proceeding with the attack wouldn’t necessarily deter me from going through with it. Attackers already know that it is illegal to attack someone. It would be a much better use of the limited time one has before an attack occurs to call 911 in hopes of a real live police officer showing up in time to help you.
Additionally, the police officer on the video chat is not even in the jurisdiction of where you are located when you use the app, unless you live in San Francisco, California, where On Camera’s offices are located. This completely strikes down On Camera’s claim that it is faster than calling 911. Yes, the initial contact made with the On Camera police officer may be faster than calling 911. But the On Camera police officers would still have to contact a police officer in the jurisdiction of where you are located. Again, calling 911 yourself would be much faster.
Another downfall to On Camera is the time that it takes to activate the video chat, and the risk users take when using the app as opposed to physical defense. To activate the video chat, users would have to unlock their phone, open the app, and press the red button. And even then, they have to assume that the attacker’s response to the video chat will be to walk away. It might work, but it will be a gamble every time. Using pepper spray or mace and running away will always be a safer bet.
For CSU students specifically, there are better alternatives than using On Camera. CSU Police Department has a program called Safe Walk, which guarantees all students the ability to call and have a CSU police officer walk you to your destination at any time. Safe Walk guarantees you the protection from a real life police officer if you feel like you are going to be in a dangerous environment.
Although, one benefit to downloading the On Camera app, if you have the $17.99 a month to spare, would be providing proof of a crime. If you are video chatting with an On Camera officer while watching a crime happen, then they would have the video, even if it is deleted from your phone, as validation that the crime actually happened. Simultaneously, the On Camera officer could alert police officers in your area that would be able to respond to the crime you are witnessing. This approach would also work for a crime that is happening to you, but only after you’ve called 911 and attempted to fight back.
On Camera isn’t the worst idea by far, but it should never be your first go-to when responding to an attacker. It wouldn’t hurt to download if you can afford it, but it should come with a disclaimer that says, “use as a last resort.”
Collegian Arts and Culture Editor Randi Mattox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @randimattox.