Mobile App Reviews: Operation Predator

Reviewed by Tracy Cramer (July 2014):

Description and Purpose 

Law enforcement agencies frequently engage with the public to locate criminals and fight crime.  The Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency designed the Operation Predator application as a way to get the public involved in identifying suspects involved with child exploitation.   According to the ICE website, the mission of Operation Predator is to provide an international initiative to “identify, investigate and arrest child predators who: possess, trade and produce child pornography, travel overseas for sex with minors; and engage in the sex trafficking of children."   The purpose of the app, as stated in the iTunes store, furthers that mission by allowing the public to identify suspects and report suspected child exploitation to HSI officials.   The target audience for the app is adults and it is available as a free download through the iTunes app store.  

The Operation Predator app is organized into a menu of options that a user can click on to access different information.  The first menu option is Suspects, which displays pictures of the wanted person, a description of the crime, and the last known whereabouts of the individual.   Users can use the HSI Tipline link to report suspicious activity or report the location of a suspect through a phone call or a form.  Results and Arrests can be displayed on the screen updating users on recent arrests and updates on previous cases.  A News section displays recent headlines across the nation related to the topic of child exploitation.  Users can also access Partners or Online Resources to locate other organizations as well as websites that can provide additional support and resources.  Finally, an About the Program link educates users on the history of Operation Predator within ICE and describes the agency’s efforts on fighting the crime.  

Website Functionality 

The Operation Predator app meets its stated purpose of allowing the public to identify suspects and report suspected child exploitation to HSI officials.  The very first link in the menu takes users to a list of suspects. Clicking on the person provides even more detailed information to the user, such as an alias, age, race, height, weight, and details about the criminal history of the individual.  Users are provided a link to the Tipline at the top of the Suspects page, as well as in the main menu page.  The Tipline allows users to directly contact HSI officials using their phone, or by submitting an online form which has been approved and granted a control number by the Office of Management and Budget.  The app goes above and beyond its purpose by providing feedback on recent arrests as well as news, and by providing links to partnering agencies and websites.  

Barriers to Access

One of the largest barriers to access with the Operation Predator app is the fact that it is only downloadable from the iTunes store.  The lack of availability in Google Play excludes users who do not own an Apple mobile device.  Another barrier to access could be the perceived lack of privacy or discomfort from submitting a tip to a law enforcement agency.  The app states on the HSI Tipline link that “all tips may remain anonymous” but no other privacy statement or indication of how data could be tracked is given.  Does the agency keep a record of the phone number that made the tip?  Is it linked to an IP address through the Wifi signal?  The inclusion of a detailed privacy statement may provide some users more comfort in reporting suspicious activity.  Finally, the app only displays in English with no option to translate the information to a different language. This could limit the use of the app to only English speaking users.  

Recommendations for Improvement 

One recommendation for improving the app is to create a map feature to help users visualize where crimes are occurring and the last known locations of suspects.  Users could focus in on a certain area, and even receive location specific push alerts to their phones.   Another recommendation would be to develop the app to be compatible with Android and other devices.  A large segment of the population is unable to utilize the services of this app because it is not compatible with their mobile device.  The Operation Predator app is a helpful tool for HSI officials to partner with the public to identify suspects and report suspicious activity.  

Tracy Cramer is an MLS student at the University of Maryland iSchool enrolled in the eGovernment specialization. Tracy is a recipient of a Laura Bush 21st Century scholarship funded by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.