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Apps / Data / Municipal government

Philly’s anti-graffiti team is piloting a mobile app to track its work

City officials say the new, off-the-shelf system could mean less paperwork, more accountability and more data — for a unit that was previously doing data analysis in Excel.

The City of Philadelphia’s anti-graffiti team is hitting the streets armed with a new mobile app.

Instead of using pen and paper to log their work out in the field, five crew members are using the ESRI-built app on Samsung Galaxy phones to track their work, complete with before and after photos.

The app means less paperwork and data entry, more accountability (thanks to the photos) and more data to drive how the anti-graffiti team works, said Tom Conway, who leads the city’s Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP), which oversees the graffiti team. The unit tackles graffiti on about 120,000 properties every year, Conway said.

As part of the program, administrative staff can get information in real-time about work being done in the field, plotted on a map.

The city is halfway through its two-month pilot using the technology and will decide after the pilot if they should roll the mobile app out to all 28 members of the anti-graffiti team, Conway said. The pilot program doesn’t currently cost the city anything because the phones are on loan for six months and the app is paid for by the city’s licensing agreement with ESRI, said Francisco Galarza, an Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) staffer who’s helping to run the pilot.

mobile app graffiti esri

Screenshots of the mobile app that the city’s anti-graffiti team is piloting in the field. (Photo courtesy of the City of Philadelphia)

The pilot program is another move by city agencies to go paperless out in the field.

Also interesting: the city using an Android phone and an ESRI app, instead of a piece of customized software or hardware. That means if the ESRI app doesn’t work out, the city could try another Android app, said Chief Data Officer Tim Wisniewski, who also worked on the project.

The city plans to give mobile devices to inspectors from the Department of Licenses & Inspections so they can issue violations in real time, instead of waiting to go back to the office to do so. Other enforcement officers, like ones with the Streets Department’s trash team and the Philadelphia Parking Authority, use mobile devices out in the field, too, but they’re not sleek smartphones like the ones the anti-graffiti crew is using. They’re specialized, clunkier handheld devices.

“Historically, most agencies only used relatively expensive industrial ruggedized devices,” OIT’s Galarza wrote in an email.

The program also follows the trend of city departments trying to make more data-driven decisions, usually with location-based data to identify patterns and target areas. The Philadelphia Police Department is the prime example of this — they even trained beat cops to crunch data.

The ESRI mobile app will give CLIP, the department that runs the anti-graffiti team, the ability to map and analyze data. That’s a “powerful tool” for CLIP, which doesn’t have a dedicated GIS team, Galarza wrote in an email. Previously, if they wanted to do any sort of data analysis of their work, they had to use Excel, he said.


Administrative staff use this dashboard to see, in real-time, what crew members are working on. (Photo courtesy of the City of Philadelphia)

Companies: City of Philadelphia / Office of Innovation and Technology

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