A Washington, DC news crew got more than it bargained for while working on a story about a new smartphone app that labels “sketchy” neighborhoods: they got robbed.
The incident took place on Saturday, as reporters from WUSA9 asked residents in a local neighborhood how they felt about living in an area labeled “sketchy” by a new app that went unnamed during the report. While residents told reporter Mola Lenghi that the neighborhood was not as unsafe as the app suggested, the news crew filming the interviews had their cargo lifted from their vehicle.
“We were doing a story on an app that describes ‘sketchy’ neighborhoods,” Lenghi said during an on-air report. “It led us to the Petworth neighborhood of Northwest, and I’m not going to call it a ‘sketchy’ neighborhood, but as folks were telling us that it was a good neighborhood, and that not much activity happens around there – as that was being told to us, our van was being robbed.”
“This is what happened: We got back to the news van and noticed that the lock was popped out. Got in there, and noticed that all of our stuff was gone. I had a backpack full of electronics.”
In addition to Lenghi’s items, two backpacks filled with a laptop, photo gear, and small electronics were stolen from the crew’s cameraman. A female crew member had her purse, wallet, and cracked iPhone taken.
The crew was ultimately able to recover some of its gear with a different app: 'Find My iPhone.' They were able to track down the employee’s iPhone, which was thrown in a dumpster – presumably because it was cracked – along with other items the robbers decided weren’t worth the trouble. Many items were retrieved, but “many, many, many thousands of dollars” worth of equipment was not found.
“We were doing a story on one app, and a different app ended up saving us,” Lenghi said, noting that a police report was filed in the wake of the incident.
Although the app that was the subject of the original story was never mentioned, it’s possible the reporters were referring to 'SketchFactor.' The app recently made headlines across the internet for offering a user-supported rating system that would combine scores to rate a neighborhood’s “sketchiness” – something that was defined by the app’s white creators as "an event that's uncomfortable and out of the ordinary."
The app quickly came under fire from various corners for letting white people unfairly label minority neighborhoods as dangerous places to avoid.
"Is there any way to keep white people from using computers, before this whole planet is ruined?" asked Sam Biddle of ValleyWag after posting about the app.
Despite the negative attention, SketchFactor’s creators defended their software by saying it allows people to filter results based on numerous variables, such as complaints about crime, racial profiling, catcalling, and more.