When it comes to innovation, government agencies have a reputation for lagging behind. At the DMV, slow adoption means little more than annoying delays — but for law enforcement, it can be dangerous. Bringing police departments across the U.S. up to speed is Niraj Shah’s mission.
After navigating the sale of Inome and Intelius — two companies he co-founded with Naveen Jain and Ed Petersen — Shah began searching for new opportunities to leverage his background in data intelligence. He connected with two first responders and quickly saw a problem in law enforcement technology that he wanted solve. That was the impetus for FirstTwo, a platform that provides real-time information about other officers and civilians in the field.
“I’ve always wanted to take my background of information and apply it in places that are underserved, and law enforcement happens to be a place, now, where I think it’s important — any progress that we can make,” he said.
When the police arrive at a scene, FirstTwo displays the addresses and identifying information (like names and phone numbers) of civilians who live in the vicinity, and locations of other officers within the perimeter. The app’s data comes from publicly available information and Google Maps.
FirstTwo also includes links to social media pages, if an officer wants more than basic identifying information on a civilian.
Shah used his successful startup exit to fund FirstTwo himself. He co-founded the Bellevue, Wash.-based company with fellow Intelius vet Dave McAlpin. Since launching in January, FirstTwo has partnered with 60 police departments in Washington, Oregon, and California, according to Shah.
FirstTwo’s launch comes at a time when racial issues have thrust law enforcement into the media spotlight. A series of deadly clashes between police officers and black civilians gave birth to the Black Lives Matter movement and a swelling tide of violence on both sides.
“I’m not a limelight guy,” says Shah, who began developing FirstTwo before this summer’s events put the police controversy on the world stage. But he does hope that embracing new technologies can improve police decision-making overall, while enhancing safety and efficiency.
“I hope that does bring transparency,” he said. “I hope that does bring better decision-making.”
Police departments are already embracing other technologies to tackle the transparency issue. The Seattle Police Department, for example, uses body-worn cameras and real-time visual data to inform policing.
“This is a new world we live in where actionable intelligence is a key to safety,” said Shah. “We need to arm law enforcement with intelligence. That is our focus.”