JusticeMobile app development process calls into question sf.citi involvement 

click to enlarge JusticeMobile
  • mike Koozmin/the s.f. examiner
  • The SFPD says it created the JusticeMobile app on its own with a $1 million federal grant.
About a year and a half ago, city leaders and a prominent tech investor stood before reporters in The City’s police academy building to announce the new Police Department-piloted app for crime reporting called JusticeMobile, aka the “Bat Computer.”

Ron Conway, a tech investor and campaign contributor to Mayor Ed Lee, was there because his nonprofit, sf.citi, was helping the pilot through a $100,000 donation — one of the group’s biggest philanthropic efforts to date and arguably the most publicized.

“Working with civic leaders to identify ways in which the San Francisco tech community can improve The City is a mission of sf.citi, and this project is a perfect example of that partnership,” Conway said at the June 25, 2012, news conference.

A little more than a year later, this past September, the app’s pilot phase was over. Mayor Ed Lee, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Police Chief Greg Suhr announced the finalization of JusticeMobile and thanked sf.citi for aiding in its development. “Talk about loving when a plan comes together,” Suhr said at the time. “And I want to acknowledge the vision of Mayor Lee, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, the Police Commission and sf.citi moving this initiative forward.”

The only problem with all the fanfare was that it appears sf.citi had nothing to do with the final product, raising questions about the organization’s philanthropic claims.

DIFFERENT STORIES

Sf.citi is a nonprofit that purports to essentially be a tech chamber of commerce, and actively lobbies on the industry’s behalf. The 550-plus-member organization also bills itself as the face of tech philanthropy in San Francisco, and recently the group was tapped by the mayor to come up with ideas for how the surging sector can give back to the community.

In terms of JusticeMobile, however, it appears sf.citi oversold its role in the app’s development.

“Sf.citi did not provide us with an app,” said Susan Merritt, the chief information officer for the SFPD. It wasn’t for lack of trying though, she admitted. “Sf.citi has been a good partner,” Merritt said. “They have tried to help us along the way.”

Within months of the 2012 pilot’s launch, app developer ArcTouch, an sf.citi member contracted for the project, was out of the picture.

Sf.citi’s $100,000 grant ostensibly went to ArcTouch for that work. But the extent of the company’s involvement in development was conversations with the SFPD, which soon decided ArcTouch was not the right fit because of security concerns, Merritt said.

“They were trying to help,” Merritt said of ArcTouch. “But the app we are using on smartphones was developed by SFPD.”

As for the $100,000, only half was given to ArcTouch, sf.citi said. It’s unclear what the $50,000 paid for.

Yet sf.citi’s managing director, Alex Tourk, contends that his group, through ArcTouch, helped create JusticeMobile.

“They worked with SFPD on design features, functionality and back-end connectivity,” Tourk said of ArcTouch. “After that work was done, SFPD contracted with another vendor to finish the project.”

But Tourk’s contentions were contradicted by Officer Gordon Shyy, who echoed Merritt’s sentiments. “We haven’t used anything from ArcTouch,” Shyy said.

Sf.citi’s website also claims it worked with the California Department of Justice “to develop the JusticeMobile law enforcement data initiative application.”

But according to an Attorney General’s Office spokesman, that was not the case.

JusticeMobile was originally developed in-house by the DOJ and then copied by the Police Department, and Merritt said the program in San Francisco was ultimately funded through a $1 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

STANDING FIRM

Despite all of the evidence pointing to sf.citi’s lack of participation in the app’s development, the Mayor’s Office still said in September that the organization played a role in the process.

“Under the leadership of Attorney General Harris, SFPD and sf.citi, the JusticeMobile smartphones give officers on the streets instant access to law enforcement data where information in real time counts,” Lee said at the time.

And Tourk, who initially told The San Francisco Examiner that sf.citi contracted with ArcTouch for $100,000 but later said the company was only paid $50,000, contends that their efforts were a success.

“What we accomplished is exactly what this organization was set up to do — to bring private and public sectors together to identify and help solve problems for the people of San Francisco using tech resources, talent and time without any taxpayer dollars,” Tourk said.

When The San Francisco Examiner asked Merritt if sf.citi or ArcTouch helped create the app in any way, she said, “No, not to my knowledge.”

ArcTouch did not respond to calls for comment, but the company’s website still touts its involvement in the app.

Sf.citi joining efforts to mentor kids

Eighty-three children looking for mentors may soon find them.

A joint effort between city government, the private sector and a local nonprofit to reduce the waiting list for kids looking for mentors was announced Tuesday at the Bayview Branch Library.

Supervisor Malia Cohen and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu teamed up with sf.citi and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area to provide mentors for needy children.

“One-on-one mentoring is a proven model to help inspire and guide young people,” Cohen said. “We should be doing everything possible to bring additional resources, people and energy to help our city’s children.”

The majority of the children on the waiting list live in southeastern neighborhoods, which Cohen represents, and the hope is that within months they will all have mentors, said Yoyo Chan, a legislative aid for Cohen.

Sf.citi has already facilitated volunteer efforts for its members, Chan said.

“Our members represent San Francisco values and care deeply about The City’s future,” said sf.citi board member Steve Sarner, who’s also vice president of marketing for social-media firm Tagged Inc.

There is no number that the partnership expects sf.citi will meet as far as recruiting mentors goes, Chan said, adding that “our hope is that all 83 come from sf.citi alone, but we are not going to turn people down.”

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Bio:
Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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