Five years ago, Santiago Villegas was sitting in his parked car on a street in Medellín, Colombia, when a man came up to him, pulled a gun, and demanded his keys. Villegas handed them over, and the man drove off. Villegas headed to a police station, where it took hours to report the crime. He realized that many people in his position wouldn’t have even bothered, given the widespread fear of retaliation.
“Martin Luther King said that those who see evil and do not protest support that evil,” he says. “But perhaps he did not consider that in a city like Medellín, protest could mean death.”
That’s when Villegas, a computer scientist, decided to shine more light on crime. He created a system called the Online Safety Project, which lets people report everything from disturbance of the peace to homicide in a matter of seconds, anonymously. Witnesses and other people can add comments or pictures and vote on whether any report is “true” or “not true” and whether it “affects me.”
The system got funding from a company that manages security in Medellín and recently expanded to Bogotá. Employees monitor the site around the clock and contact the police when necessary. Every report also gets added to an online map, letting people see which neighborhoods are safest. “This kind of information,” Villegas says, “is vital for any person.”
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