Hidalgo County DA announces launch of safety app

Hidalgo County Criminal District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr. kicked off Domestic Violence Awareness Month by announcing a new innovative cellphone app that will allow victims to secure law enforcement help more quickly.

The Victim Initiated Notification (VIN) safety app program is the first of its kind in the nation and will provide an added layer of protection for domestic violence victims, according to a Thursday release from the county.

Lee Cantu, HCDA Domestic Violence Unit Investigator, Juan Villescas, HCDA First Assistant District Attorney; Amy Bayona Cantu, HCDA Domestic Violence Chief; Rosie Martinez, HCDA Victim Unit Director; Gloria Terry, Texas Council on Family Violence Executive Director; Hon. Ricardo Rodriguez Jr., Hidalgo County Criminal District Attorney; Estella De Anda, Mujeres Unidas Executive Director; Cecilia Mata-Moya, Mujeres Unidas Legal Service Manager; Candice LaGrange, Justice Alert Technology Chief Executive Officer; and Juan Cano, Victim Initiated Notification Safety App Co-Founder.

Rodriguez is using this tool to increase the protective measures for victims. in partnership with the Texas Council on Family Violence and Justice Alert Technology.

“This is another resource that we will use to combat domestic violence,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “The VIN safety app will serve as deterrence and it will hold perpetrators accountable for committing continued acts of violence against their loved ones.”

The pilot program of this app will completely transform the way victims can reach out to law enforcement for help, Rodriguez said.

The app will be provided to victims in cases involving protective order violations and for those seeking protective orders. It will be free of charge for the victims who choose to be in the pilot program. The VIN safety app will send an alert to the police department and a live stream video of the victims’ G.P.S. location when they push the alert button. In addition, it will record video and audio in real time, preserving it for evidence, the release stated

“During these unprecedented times, we are using existing technology to assist victims and provide them an alternate method of safety and protection,” Rodriguez said. “We understand that for many victims the shelter in place orders and social distancing guidelines implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic might prevent them from seeking assistance in person. Many victims have access to a cell phone and they will be able to get help with the touch of a button using their cell phone.”

Domestic violence is against the law and the district attorney’s office has been implementing different procedures to increase the safety of victims.

If a perpetrator breaks the cell phone to prevent the victim from calling for help, the live stream video and audio will be available for the police department to view. The victim also will be able to recover the data by logging in to the app account on another device.

According to the release, the victim will also be able to use other integrated app functions to preserve dates, times, locations of other episodes of violence, violations of protective orders or when they seek medical attention for injuries related to domestic violence. The app also has a function to allow victims to send an alert message to five people they designate as their safety network.

“The victim will have that evidence in the palm of their hand before the officer responds to the domestic violence call,” said Rodriguez.

This pilot program will be conducted with funding from the Texas Council on Family Violence and in collaboration with Justice Alert Technology. The DA’s office is in the beginning phase of implementation and will be conducting a series of trainings for law enforcement agencies, dispatchers, crime victim liaisons and victim advocates to ensure that everyone is trained on how this new cutting edge technology will work to enhance the safety of victims.

In the second phase of implementation, Rodriguez will provide training to prosecutors and judges on this software and how to retrieve the evidence that the app will preserve, the release said. The final implementation of the pilot program will be to provide the app to victims and provide individual training to each victim on how to use this software.

For more information on the VIN Safety App, please contact the Victims Unit at (956) 292-7616.

Leave a Comment