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Safety app offers solutions for concerned campus-area residents

ClutchSOS, created by a University of Minnesota graduate, provides a network of security for students traveling alone.
Image by Jack Rodgers
A cyclist rides down 5th Street Southeast in Dinkytown on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2019.

In light of recent crimes in Marcy-Holmes, a University of Minnesota graduate is offering a potential solution for residents to travel safely alone. 

When enabled, Muhammad Abdurrahman’s app, ClutchSOS, tracks a user’s location and can record audio when the user feels they need extra protection. ClutchSOS also alerts a number of pre-chosen contacts and allows them to track the user until they have made it home safely. Within the app, the user and the contacts both have the option to call 911 if the need arises.

“We started Clutch so people could be there for each other, so you can be there for your friends in that moment, no matter what it is. It could be a difficult situation, but the person who performs or the person who saves you is clutch,” Abdurrahman said. 

Abdurrahman, who graduated with a masters and Ph.D. in linguistics and worked as an adjunct professor, started working on ClutchSOS in December 2016. Since further developing the app, the ClutchSOS team is working on getting the word out, especially as safety concerns have heightened after recent incidents in Marcy-Holmes.

While attending a recent community safety meeting in Marcy-Holmes prompted by recent incidents, including a homicide, Abdurrahman told attendees how the app may be able to help relieve concerns for community members.

“Living in the neighborhood for years, there’s definitely spikes of violence or crime. I love Dinkytown and I love Marcy-Holmes, but things can get a bit shady. […] I started getting more involved with the community because I wasn’t just a student, but I had students,” Abdurrahman said. 

Since January, Marcy-Holmes has held four community safety meetings regarding high-profile violent crimes in the neighborhood. At the meetings, officials addressed issues of short police staffing and security of the streets in the early morning hours.

Jacquie Rodriguez, a Marcy-Holmes resident, said recent incidents with the police outside of her apartment complex have made her feel less safe at night. 

“Usually during the day I feel pretty safe [in Marcy-Holmes]. It’s at night that I make sure I have my pepper spray on me. After 10 or 11 p.m., I will have the pepper spray in my hands,” Rodriguez said. “I text my friends too, ‘Hey, I’m walking home right now,’ just in case I get murdered.” 

Abdurrahman spoke of similar fears in experiences walking home at night and stressed the value of the app for people of any gender identity. 

“It’s super important, we’re not going to address the issues of harassment and sexual violence that women face if we don’t have the empathy or experience on the other side, too,” Abdurrahman said.

Abdurrahman said the app has previously helped a community member file a restraining order against a former partner for domestic violence using the audio recording that the app provided.

Kelly Anderson, a friend of the app’s founder, said she is in the habit of using the app two or three times a day.

“I usually use [the app] when traveling place alone or I’m meeting clients that I don’t know alone,” Anderson said. “I wish I had it when I was in college. I went to school in downtown Minneapolis and I had to ride the bus a lot late at night by myself.” 

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