Smartphone application lets Fort Worth residents report code violations

Tall grass? There's an app for that.

The Fort Worth Code Compliance Department recently started using an application for iPhones and Androids that lets residents report common code violations via their smartphones.

The idea grew out of the staff and budget cuts that have hit most city departments, code compliance Director Brandon Bennett said.

"We knew we had to find a way to be more efficient at what we did," he said.

The application, myFtWorth, was developed by Graffiti Protective Coatings of Tucson, Ariz., which normally sells equipment and services for dealing with vandals. The company makes similar apps for other cities -- myPhoenix, MySantaAna and so on.

The application is designed to snap a picture of graffiti, record the location with the phone's internal GPS system and send a note to a central location. GPC originally used the system it for its own business, tracking complaints and relaying them to cleanup crews.

Then customers started asking to use the system, so GPC developed a consumer version, which it gives away.

More than 192,000 copies of the app have been downloaded, according to the company's website, and the company has been providing versions that allow people to report other problems.

"We have cities reporting lots of other things, from vacant properties to animal cruelty, you name it -- illegal dumping," GPC General Manager Barry Steinhart said.

In Fort Worth, the police handle graffiti complaints. But the application works pretty well for other types of municipal code violations, including tall grass, unauthorized "bandit" signs and the neighbor who parks in his yard.

The city has received a handful of complaints since the system went live Aug. 17. Bennett envisions using the system to coordinate cleanups -- groups of volunteers could be used to collect bandit signs, for instance, once the department compiles the information.

Ultimately, Bennett sees the potential for using resident-generated pictures to issue citations, just as automated cameras are used to issue tickets to red-light runners. That would take a change in state law.

"If somebody wants to report a pothole, it's so efficient we can, within a matter of a few seconds, forward it to the right city agency," Bennett said.

Could the phone-based system lead to an overload in the code enforcement department?

Bennett doesn't think so.

"We'll get the same number of complaints -- now we're going to have a picture of where the [complaint] is," he said.

Mike Lee, 817-390-7539