New website designed to make it easier to report suspicious activity

Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 7:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 7:14 p.m.

Local residents can now report suspicious incidents they suspect could be linked to terrorism via a new local website, mobile apps and a phone number.

Coordinated by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and 12 other neighboring sheriff’s offices — each with its own website — iWatch will take in reports of suspicious activity and send them to a fusion center, where the information will be analyzed and distributed to the areas affected.

Sadie Darnell, Alachua County sheriff and chairwoman of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Regional Domestic Security Task Force for Region 3, said iWatch will allow information to cross county borders.

“This is the first initiative of its kind in Florida that is united in 13 counties,” she said.

The website provides residents with examples of what to report and important places to watch for suspicious activity. Once a report is filed, residents may be contacted for more information on an incident. Reports cannot be made anonymously, officials said.

Steve Donaway, FDLE assistant special agent in charge, said someone taking pictures of a water plant could be an example of an incident that could be reported to iWatch.

“If something happened in Gainesville, it would not seem suspicious, unless you realized the same thing happened in Bradford County and Levy County,” he said.

Darnell said the incidents reported should not be based on an individual’s personal characteristics but instead on the behavior of the individual

The program is funded by a $150,000 grant given by the federal Department of Homeland Security. The grant was used to purchase the website domains for each county, the toll-free number and promotional information materials. Aside from Alachua, other counties that have their own websites include Bradford, Clay, Gilchrist, Levy, Marion, Putnam and Union.

iWatch was started for North Central Florida by the Regional Domestic Security Task Force for Region 3. The program was modeled after California’s iWatch program.

Lt. Todd Kelly, an Alachua County sheriff’s public information officer, said before iWatch, residents reported such incidents by dialing 911 or by contacting a non-emergency number to reach a dispatcher.

The University of Florida is also taking part in iWatch. Maj. Brad Barber, UF Police Department spokesman, said information about the program will be provided at campus housing locations, on the UF police department website and to students attending preview.

“The program will allow us to have the opportunity to investigate what may or may not be taking place,” Barber said.

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