When it comes to apps, I have a great appreciation for simplicity. Often, the most powerful ones are also the easiest to use and understand. If I need to be an engineer to find what I need when I tap an icon on my phone, chances are that app won't remain on my phone for long. After all, this is a tiny screen throwing a mountain of data at you all at once. It better get it right, and quickly.
Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I took a peek at the Texas Department of Public Safety's new app designed primarily for tracking sex offenders, most wanted criminals and human trafficking operations. Rather than trying to do everything, the Texas DPS app focuses in on these specific initiatives and, as a result, is extremely effective, albeit a tad on the uncomfortable side. No one really wants to know -- do they? -- that the guy down the street was once busted for public indecency, but if they are going to have that list, I suppose an app that makes those individual easier to find is a good thing.
So, naturally efore doing anything else, I immediately called up the sex offender registry and tapped the "near me" icon. On the map were color-coded pins where sex offenders were registered ranked by risk: none, low, medium and high. Tap an icon and get detailed information and photos about the offender. It was quick, easy and informative. Fortunately, there was only one guy in my neighborhood, a gentleman who had served a few years for having sex with a 15-year-old when he was 20. Now, around the Houston Press offices on the south side of downtown...well, let's just say I would recommend people remain indoors.
The list of fugitives is equally focused with options for viewing the most wanted, "featured" (which is moderately creepy sounding, but I get it) and captured. The most wanted are broken into standard fugitives and sex offenders, with a slideshow of names, photos and previous locations. Tap away for detailed information. There is also a "Still Wanted" icon that seems a bit redundant, but all load quickly and are easy to use.
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Like the fugitives, the sex offender registry provides plenty of additional options for locating members of that database. Users can search by name and location and even save offenders to a list -- also creepy, but effective if a particular person on that list is a danger to you or a loved one.
Finally, the human trafficking section provides similar detail to the other categories along with detailed reports on what the state is doing to curb these activities. There is even a way to report suspicious activity via iWatchTexas, which makes sense given the nature of the app. Users can submit reports and even attach photos.
Digging deeper into the settings, there is a way to create an account and then share your saved items across multiple devices, pretty sophisticated for an app of this nature, but particularly helpful if you want to view items on a bigger screen like a tablet or computer.
Overall, I came away very impressed with the Texas DPS app and it is now tucked away inside one of my folders on my iPhone in case I need it. Hopefully I won't, but it's nice to know that the same agency that runs drivers license offices could get something like this so right.