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Fighting Crime With WhatsApp In Small Town Argentina

There's a new e-sheriff in town
There's a new e-sheriff in town
Andrés Actis

CHABAS — Residents in the small town of Chabás, northwest of Buenos Aires, recently put Internet chatting to good use, effectively using the free mobile texting application WhatsApp to police their neighborhood.

The "real time" neigborhood watch scheme achieved what more traditional methods — such as waiting for the Argentine police to arrive, for example — had not, namely curbing local muggings and property thefts. There has been significant media coverage about a recent rise in crime nationwide, and there is simultaneously fear of insecurity and police corruption.

The idea began experimentally in a Chabás neighborhood in January 2014, with neighbors forming chat groups for residents within a three-block area. Each family or household in the group appointed a member to correspond with other households in the group, informing them of daily routines and movements, but also of sightings of strangers or even "a simple, unusual noise," one neighbor says.

Trust among participating families was key, and neighbors reported a drop in crime. Other parts of Chabás soon began trying the idea. If the strategy sounds intrusive or even a little creepy, one neighbor counters that it is a "lesser evil" compared to a crime situation that he describes as "out of control."

Chabás recently attracted nationwide attention for the apparent incompetence of local police. A resident who went to the police station July 25 to report a crime was told by a detainee — the only person in the building — that there were no police officers to attend to his complaint.

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