Seattle-based iWitness wants to be eyes, ears of safety

SEATTLE -- Record a crime, call police, text a friend all at once? There's an app for that.

Seattle-based iWitness hopes to put the power of crime-fighting in the palm of users' hands by allowing them to upload video of an incident in progress to a secure server. The smartphone app will be offered at a discount to students at Seattle University, which became the first college in the nation last week to back iWitness for use by its students.

"We don't want to catch criminals after a violent engagement. This is a way to have it stop because he or she realizes there's no incentive in this," said Dave Remer, iWitness founder and CEO. "There's a record of this forever."

The app suggests users activate it on their phones out of habit or when feeling threatened. A single push records audio, video and GPS location and instantly uploads it to the 'cloud,' so a suspect can't erase it.

Other options include a one-touch swipe to activate an alarm, text family and friends, or phone police.

"A lot of times people run away and the police never catch them and that's a huge issue," said Nina Cataldo, a junior at Seattle University. "If we're able to catch them on-camera and upload them for the public to see, they won't be able to hide as easily."

Cataldo said she was caught in the middle of an off-campus police manhunt in November 2013 when a suspect lept from roof to roof in Seattle's Central District, trying to evade police.

"The neighborhood was on lockdown and I was in my house alone with all four of my roommates gone," Cataldo said. "I was right in the hub of that -- so that was pretty scary. To think that could happen so close to campus in a neighborhood where so many of us students live is sometimes alarming."

Student Olivia Sundstrom said she once spotted a man following her as she shopped near campus.

"I think I was getting groceries or something and I think this man followed me for a few blocks. I went into different stores trying to lose him and he was still there," Sundstrom said. "I think (the app is) a really good for urban campuses or just in general, honestly. There's more eyes and ears out."

The app normally costs $2.99 for a monthly subscription, but Seattle University students will be offered a discount, developers said. They hope to expand the service to students of all ages.

"We just want people to turn on their iWitness -set the time, take the walk, make the drive - and it'll turn itself off," Remer added. "If nothing happens, fine. But if someone tries to take it out of your hand, knock it down, there will be a record there."

"It doesn't cure everything, but it's a real layer of personal safety that didn't exist before," Remer said.