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New app aims to increase safety of indigenous women

By Riley Kankelberg

Entegra Analytics, a Bellingham-based software company, is pioneering a new app designed to help fight the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW). The app, Tribal Watch: MMIW, is currently in its beginning stages.

In 2018, the Urban Indian Health Institute released a report about the missing and murdered indigenous women crisis. In 2016, there were 5,712 reported MMIW cases. Only 116 (2%) of those were entered into the Department of Justice database.

The idea for the app began when Clyde Ford, CEO of Entegra Analytics, went to South Africa on behalf of Microsoft. The goal was to talk about policing services and their technology needs. In talking to one of the police chiefs there, he learned that they had struggled in the past with the wide area the police had to cover. There was too much land and too few cruisers, according to Ford.

The police chief began by giving local residents the headquarters’ phone number. Then he decided to take it a step further and gave out cell phone numbers of the officers in cruisers. 

According to the police chief, crime plummeted.

“It's not that the criminals stop doing what they're doing,” Ford said. “They just went [to] other places because they realized that individuals in this area had technology that was going to help them.”

He brought this concept to other apps Entegra Analytics works on, and to Tribal Watch.

“In Tribal Watch, one of the big issues in private communities is missing and murdered indigenous women, and this just seemed like a perfect solution at a certain level,” Ford said. “I mean, obviously not solving all the province’s many issues, but in terms of helping a woman who may feel like she's in danger or in trouble, this is exactly the kind of use that this app was designed for.” 

According to Ford, the app differs from other safety systems in the easy, quiet way it operates. If someone thinks they are in danger, they can either hold a button or use the verbal “help” trigger. If the danger passes, they can release the button. If they type in the four-digit code that pops up, the app disarms. 

If the user does not type in the code, an alert is sent out to family, friends and designated authorities. This gets the message out even if their phone is taken away. The authorities could be anyone from tribal law enforcement to state police. 

“I couldn't say that all the time it's going to send it out to tribal law enforcement,” Ford said. “It's really up to the tribal nations how they want the app structured. We designed it with a tremendous amount of flexibility for that purpose, so that each individual tribe decides exactly how they want it.” 

Ford reached out to Emily Washines, founder of Native Friends and enrolled Yakima Nation tribal member, about the app. The app’s flexibility was one of the things that stood out to her. 

“I'm really interested in seeing what the possibilities are, and what the Tribal Watch: MMIW app seems to be able to do is to be very community specific,” Washines said. “As he explained when I met with him, communities themselves will decide how the app works for them. Being able to specialize a technology to meet the needs of the community that you're in is a very unique opportunity.” 

The Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission on Sexual & Domestic Violence put a spotlight on the MMIW crisis in their 2018 annual data report. Similar to the report by the Urban Indian Health Institute, there were unique barriers to collecting data. According to Elizabeth Montoya, project manager for the commission, these include recording issues and cases not being prioritized. 

“The communities say that we're missing a lot of our community members, our daughters, sisters, aunts,” Montoya said. “Those records are not being found in the criminal legal system, in law enforcement records and things like that.” 

Alongside the main function of the app will be what Ford calls the administrative back-end. Tribal Watch: MMIW will collect data on when, where and how the app is being used. This will hopefully help to fill in some of the data gaps surrounding this issue. 

“The administrative back-end might look at all of the alert calls, originating from different villages,” Ford said. “What time of day did they originate, whether alert calls are still open in terms of if an investigation or closed. We knew so many different ways you can kind of press that, and we were trying to present it in such a way that that information would be useful for tribal communities.” 

Like other apps Entegra Analytics provides, Tribal Watch: MMIW hopes to give new, more effective ways for communities to stay safe. 

“What we've heard from tribal members has been that this is the kind of application that is used not just in terms of missing and murdered indigenous women, but in general for tribal safety,” Ford said. “And that's really important to us.”

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