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LAPD and L.A. County sheriff unveil phone app for reporting terrorist activity

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announce a new phone app for reporting suspected terrorist activity at a news conference at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
(Cindy Chang/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles-area residents who witness potential terrorist activity can now report the details to law enforcement using their smartphones.

On Thursday, the LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department unveiled a new phone app called iWATCHLA that makes filing a report as simple as a few keystrokes.

The LAPD launched its “If you see something, say something” terrorism reporting program in 2009. But until now, in an age when making phone calls increasingly takes a back seat to tapping out messages, people had to dial 911 or their local police station to report suspicious activity.

The app also provides a primer on what kind of behaviors to flag.

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“Trust your instincts,” and “if it makes you feel uncomfortable, report it,” the app suggests.

For example, a hotel guest who arrives with an unusually large amount of luggage, who makes inquiries about government or military sites or who refuses cleaning services for a long period might be worth reporting, the app says.

After a video store clerk reported that there was anti-American material on a DVD he was copying, police arrested individuals planning a bomb attack, the app notes.

In another case, a woman smelled bad odors from a neighbor’s apartment, where police later discovered a poison gas factory, according to the app.

“Even more important than the ability to respond is the ability to prevent,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said at a news conference in front of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

With the rise of ISIS and self-radicalized, home-grown terrorists inspired by the internet, attacks on “soft targets” like a nightclub or an office Christmas party are difficult to prevent. On Thursday, Beck and Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell asked for the public’s help.

“We can’t be everywhere, but the public is everywhere,” McDonnell said.

LAPD and sheriff’s officials will sift through the tips, filtering out those that do not need to be in the terrorism database and investigating others in greater depth.

In reporting suspicious activity, Beck said, the focus should be on a person’s behavior, not on his or her race or religion.

“We’d rather have more information than less. We don’t mind doing the vetting,” Beck said.

cindy.chang@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @cindychangLA

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