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St. Pete software company’s new app helps police maintain social distance

Margie Manning



Photo by Jacky Lam on Unsplash

St. Petersburg software company Callyo has just launched a public safety app that’s literally made for the social distancing measures implemented as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Callyo founder Chris Bennett. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

The app is named Nectar — an acronym for “non-emergency call to a resident” — and allows a police officer to make a two-way video call to respond to a non-urgent citizen concern.

“It’s designed to promote greater connectedness between residents and law enforcement, especially during this time of quarantine with Covid-19,” said Chris Bennett, Callyo founder and chief product officer.

Callyo already makes other apps for law enforcement, so it’s not new territory for the company.

The Nectar project was initiated at the suggestion of a tech industry giant and a leading law enforcement agency, Bennett said, although he’s not been given permission to disclose their names. Those organizations knew that first responders already were stretched thin by the crisis and had to prioritize the calls for service that would require an officer to be dispatched to a scene, Bennett said.

“A lot of police departments are not eager to respond  in person to every non-emergency call if that means putting one of their officers within six feet or less of someone, to take a non-emergency police report,” Bennett said. “Just as we’ve seen healthcare with telemedicine, and schools with Zoom, virtually every business is moving to video experiences, Nectar is a way for residents to receive the same type of video experience, but with a police officer.”

Screen shots of the Nectar app

Callyo began the project at 5 p.m. on April 3 and the team worked nonstop for two weeks to develop the app.

“Callyo is a small agile team that can respond quickly to what law enforcement needs. That’s something we’re really good at. Often we create products in just a quarter. We had to do this one in less than 20 days,” Bennett said.

Not only was development time compressed, but it was done with the entire Callyo team working remotely.  “We’re very focused when we interview and bring on people that they’re joining Callyo because they believe in the mission of helping law enforcement better serve the public …. It shows when you have an emergency response like this, that people are really pulling together and working nights and weekends because they know it’s not an arbitrary deadline to get a product out. It’s something officers need.”

It’s up to each police agency that uses Nectar to determine what constitutes a non-emergency call.

“Maybe someone in the middle of the night smashed your mailbox. If you are an upset resident, you might not be happy to hear [the police] can’t send someone out. But if you could get on a two-way video and show the officer where the damage is, see the face of the officer to make it a more personal experience, as a resident you feel you’ve gotten better customer service from the police department,” Bennet said.

“From the police department’s point of view, maybe there’s something that they see in the video that  you didn’t think was urgent or important, but they might see a pattern in your neighborhood and decide to dispatch follow-up.”

While Nectar was developed in response to the Covid-19 crisis, Bennett believes it will become an essential tool going forward.

“I think video response for policing was inevitable, but Covid-19 really sped up the need for it,” Bennett said.

There’s also an economic benefit to police departments, because officers don’t have to spend the time and the gas to go out for every single call.

The app is privacy focused. Nectar collects only the caller’s mobile number, which is the minimum information needed for an officer to make a call. The app does not ask for a resident’s name, email, location or any other data.

Callyo’s earlier app, 10-21 Police Phone, is used by one in five police officers in the United States to make calls to citizens from a local number without revealing their personal number. More than 50 percent of the police agencies in the U.S. have the app, which is used by officers to make over 1 million calls per month to residents.

Callyo’s 10-21 Video app lets first responders securely livestream video footage from their phones, enhancing officer safety and situational awareness, while 10-21 Flight app shares drone footage from the controller to command staff and other officers, to put more eyes on search and rescue, accident investigations and other missions. Last year, the company rolled out i911, a tracking tool for first responders.

The Nectar app is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play at no charge for residents, Bennett said. It’s also free to law enforcement during the Covid-19 outbreak.

While the company is not charging for the app currently, Bennett said Callyo eventually might make it part of a premium package with the 10-21 Video app.

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