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Nashua firm's smartphone app lists names, addresses of nearby sex offenders

Union Leader Correspondent

April 01. 2014 8:14PM
Rindress MacDonald, principal software engineer for Ping4 Inc. of Nashua, displays a new app feature that can show users the addresses and names of registered sex offenders nearby. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON PHOTO)

NASHUA — A local company is launching a new app that will allow anyone with a smartphone to instantly locate the addresses and names of registered sex offenders in the area.

While the names of registered sex offenders are public information and available online, this new map-driven public safety content offered by Ping4 Inc. makes the information easily available with the touch of a screen, said Kyla Natali, public relations manager for Ping4 Inc.

Ping4 Inc., housed at 20 Cotton Road, is a hyperlocal emergency alert company whose product is used by several state emergency management agencies, police departments and educational institutions throughout the nation and in New Hampshire.

"You really need to know before tragedy happens who you are interacting with," said Natali, noting the new Ping4 feature is a practical way for smartphone users to better understand their surroundings.

It also enables parents to understand where potential threats to their children may live in comparison to certain neighborhoods, schools, playgrounds and libraries, according to Rindress MacDonald, principal software engineer with Ping4.

"This new feature allows you to visually and spatially identify sex offenders near you," said MacDonald, who is also a father. "I can see this benefiting a lot of people."

With the touch of a screen, users will be able to view a map-driven interface indicating where a sex offender lives, their name, physical description, offenses and criminal record.

Ping4 uses data directly from the state's sex offender registry website and stores a link on the Ping4 server. Ping4 translates the offender's last known address into "geo-coordinates," and users will receive the information when activating the feature. Once the feature is opened, the user can see the map of their immediate area, and a red pin will be displayed for each sex offender's address within a certain radius and up to 50 pins.

The company is also testing push alerts that may be available to notify users when they are within high-density areas with numerous sex offenders.

"For a lot of people, this information really resonates with them," said MacDonald, who worries about his own children walking to and from the bus stop. "People like to know these details and this type of information."

There are select areas in Nashua where registered sex offenders tend to congregate, specifically in the downtown area and within the Tree Streets community, according to MacDonald.

In this day and age, it is critical to arm yourself with information, said Natali, who says she is concerned about minor restrictions on where sex offenders can reside in New Hampshire. Currently, Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders are included in the feature.

Later this month, the sex offender feature will be available in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Florida and New Jersey. Progress is being made to offer the feature to additional states as well, said MacDonald.

"This is our first step in map-driven public safety content, and it is a huge step," said Natali, adding the company is working to add more public safety content features such as historical crime data focusing on break-ins, thefts and assaults in specific neighborhoods.

Ping4 alerts are unlike other alert notification systems because it requires no information about the users who have downloaded the app, meaning it is completely anonymous.

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