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Credit: Chase Sutton

A College of Liberal and Professional Studies graduate created a digital map to track crime in West Philadelphia using police reports and information posted by local residents on social media.

LPS alumnus Dillon Heffernan, who graduated in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in economics, decided to make a custom Google Map overlay earlier this month when he said his neighborhood was experiencing three robberies a night.

“There have been a lot of armed robberies in the neighborhood recently and they all have a similar [method of operation],” Heffernan said. “The robbers would make the person take out their phone, actually open up the phone at gunpoint, make them turn off iCloud before they took it, so they could make sure it wouldn’t be tracked.”

On Jan. 16, Penn's Division of Public Safety sent an advisory to inform members of the Penn community that the Philadelphia Police were investigating a series of robberies where offenders had victims disable their iPhone password and the “Find My iPhone” tracking feature. The email said the robberies took place between 46th and 50th streets from Jan. 4 to Jan. 13.

Heffernan said many people robbed were not reporting to the police but instead posting their experiences and locations in West Willy, a Facebook group for local residents.

“There was this feeling that if you were mugged and called the police, it would increase the police presence in the neighborhood, which would result in police randomly stopping young black men and possibly killing them,” Heffernan said.

Heffernan added that he hopes the map will serve as an important resource to account for more crimes while enabling people to avoid the threat of online retaliation. He said the Philadelphia Police have some similar resources for tracking crime in the area but could not take these unreported cases into account.

Heffernan said he continues to update the map manually but has been banned from the West Willy page for an unknown reason. He also told CBS Philly that he was considering starting a neighborhood watch group of his own.

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