The Department of Planning and Natural Resources has launched an application that will let citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands report to the department anonymously if they see something they think is suspicious or illegal that could harm the environment.
The app can be found and downloaded by searching “USVI DPNR Hotline” in either the Android app store, known as “Google Play,” or the Apple app store for iPhones.
The reporting project is the result of the Coastal Zone Management’s Coral Reef Conservation initiative. There was a proposal a few years ago for community members to send in anonymous tips when they saw something that could harm coral reefs. The idea was expanded so that it could be used throughout all of DPNR’s divisions as a way for community members to reach out and report anything illegal or suspicious.
Kristina Edwards, the education and outreach coordinator for Coastal Zone Management at DPNR, said violations can be reported for “the whole gamut of things that fall under the responsibility of DPNR.” Examples of the violations that should be reported through the app include illegal and suspicious acts ranging from poaching, fishing in restricted areas, constructions without permits and improperly installed fences.
“I hope that this makes it easy for people to say something, and with that quick response time people will realize that there are real people looking at these responses and that it is a local run program,” Edwards said.
The communication on the app is encrypted so even though communication between DPNR and a tipster is possible, the identity of the person reporting the violation won’t be revealed.
While the reports will vary based on the situation, DPNR will need a photo of what’s happening with identifying landmarks and good location data. This will allow the department to dispatch enforcement officers to the scene.
If there is a situation with a vessel, the registration number is more important than a picture of someone’s face.
Edwards stressed that users of the app should not put themselves in dangerous situations to report violations as their safety is the top priority.
If a person is reporting data on the scene, the app can directly use a person’s location, but if the report is happening after the fact, the user can type in the location.
The app also has the department’s phone number, website, Facebook and the V.I. Code all in one location. Edwards said that the Code is on the app because “it is important for us as Virgin Islanders to understand what laws are written and how we can act upon those.”
When the app was live but had not been fully launched, while the department was training staff on the procedures, they received three reports that they acted on.
One person who used the app said, “I used the DPNR app to report illegal dumping. It was quick, I could easily upload the photos I took of the offender in action from my phone and they confirmed working on the case. I’m really excited that us Virgin Islanders have a way of reporting and enforcing the laws that keep our home safe and beautiful.”
The person was not named as communication on the app is anonymous.
Edwards hopes that the response time for the app will be less than 24 hours.
In the long term, Edwards said, “This helps our community feel empowered to speak up when they see something that is not right. … This is our Virgin Islands so if we see something that is not legal or not right, we have the power to do something and say something.”