Police at work on the streets of Sydney in the early hours of a Sunday morning.

Police at work on the streets of Sydney in the early hours of a Sunday morning. Photo: Daniel Shaw

New surveillance apps touted as anti-violence tools have been criticised by victim groups as useless. And police have warned that publishing videos of crimes could interfere with the legal process.

The Red Handed app released by Tonto Security on Wednesday provides a platform dedicated to sharing videos of fights and assaults and asks people to vote on whether they believe a crime has been committed.

It encourages instant sharing via social media before videos have been seen by police or moderators, and can alert people to nearby fights or crime.

It claims to "help victims of crime by catching and deterring criminals".

Meanwhile, personal safety apps such as MyWitness and PoliceCam provide instant panic buttons that alert friends or family to a potential victim's location and automatically start recording voice and video footage.

The apps are being sold as solutions to "king hits" and as a way for people to steer clear of violence at night time.

But a spokeswoman for the Victorian Centre Against Sexual Assault warned that widespread use of personal safety apps would encourage assailants to grab and discard or destroy smartphones. The Red Handed app would have "no benefit at all" in preventing crime but would encourage the sharing of videos showing bad behaviour.

A spokeswoman for Victoria Police said it did not "encourage anything that may put a person in danger and again, the best thing to do if you witness a crime is to call triple zero immediately".

While Red Handed's Sydney-based developers said shared footage would help as evidence of a crime, Victoria Police said video was "only of value to police if those filming it actually provide it to police" and that "posting it online has little impact prior to an arrest being made. Following an arrest sub judice applies and this also covers any content posted by members of the public."

Red Handed spokesman Dave Malcolm said sharing crime videos was not for voyeuristic reasons. "It is more to do with getting more eyeballs on the incident" and the alert service would help people avoid criminal hot spots.

Voting helped Red Handed determine which crimes should be reported to police, although he expected many would call emergency services.

"Sharing the reports allows the Red Handed users to engage with the content from an informed point of view. That is, they can see it, and should they wish, vote and share ... If the crimes were not shared, the app is little more than a recording device and the benefits of the impact or rapid escalation through multiple users and social media would be lost," Mr Malcolm said. "What we are trying to do is catch criminals and deter violent behaviour."

Asked whether the app could encourage people to film crimes or rush to fights, Mr Malcolm said "you have to have a little bit of confidence in human nature" that their intention was to change the culture of violence.

He said he hoped to release the app around the world and to talk to police about "the most appropriate way in which to handle this communication and information".

The app was due to be launched in Australia within six months but was made available this week after Fairfax Media's inquiries. The company also makes a panic app and Cammy, a cloud-based IP camera security system.

Meanwhile, one of the creators of the MyWitness app said the idea came from personal experience after saving a young man from being beaten up. He claims it took too long for police to arrive and none of them could remember the assailants' licence plate.

MyWitness app does not contact the police but alerts a "personal response team" to the victim's location and activates voice and video functions.

"There is only so much information that people are able to remember in a stressful situation ... video captures what is happening," Shane Rendoth said.

MyWitness was released just before Schoolies Week and targeted at parents concerned for their children's safety. Once triggered, it automatically makes audio and video footage available to the personal response team in almost real time, potentially allowing friends and family to witness assaults on a 10-second delay. It also stores the footage.

"You trigger the alert when you feel nervous about your safety. Do not wait until it is too late," Mr Rendoth said.

"We are not trying to create a city of vigilantes ... we know that there is only so much that the police can do. We know that there are only particular areas that CCTV can cover, so this app can be used in those places where CCTV cameras are not available."

CASA launched an app last year that allows people to report sexual assaults, stalking and harassment anonymously and confidentially. The spokeswoman said a number of serious assaults had since been reported and the information passed onto police.