Georgetown business group addresses racial profiling concerns over digital crime prevention app

- Several District leaders are expressing concerns over the way one D.C. neighborhood is fighting crime. It has to do with a smartphone messaging app that allows business owners and even the police to communicate about shoplifting and other public safety concerns.

But some are concerned that this app could be used for racial profiling.

The Georgetowner first looked into this issue back in August and reviewed some of the messages and photos on the app.

We are told at this time that a review of this app happens constantly to make sure no profiling is not taking place and that it is being used for what it is supposed to, which is to deter crime.

The Georgetown Business Improvement District said the messaging had nothing to do with profiling.

A review by the organization of all the messages since January show almost 70 percent of those messages were about African Americans.

“We want to make sure that everybody is using it by the rules, and if they don’t, we have a great mechanism for enforcing the rules and we just take them off the app,” said Joe Sternlieb, CEO of the Georgetown Business Improvement District.

D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans represents Georgetown.

“We don’t tolerate racial profiling in the city and Georgetown where this is referenced to,” he told us. “And so, Georgetown is open and welcoming to everybody.”

The app is called GroupMe and it is set up to deter shoplifting. It enables shop employees to communicate with each other and police. We are told that recently, all store employees were reminded to not to list race when posting.

“The community is self-policing, so we had somebody post, ‘Three teenagers in here reek of marijuana, I think they are up to no good,’ and somebody posted right after that, ‘Reeking of marijuana isn’t illegal,’” said Sternlieb. “And the person says, ‘Sorry.’”

FOX 5 spoke to three D.C. council members at the Wilson Building and they said they are concerned about this and that they will keep a close eye on this situation.

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