Last year, the Clinton Police Department rolled out an anonymous texting service that opened another avenue for citizens to report suspicious activity and incidents the agency could use to solve crimes. Now, through its own phone app, the department is making that process even easier — and more visual.
The ‘tipcpd’ app is available for free through the App Store on Apple and Android phones, and allows for quick and anonymous submission of tips from local citizens. As with the existing texting service, residents will be able to text back and forth with local law enforcement while remaining completely unknown to officers.
“We implemented it last year as just the texting of anonymous tips,” Police Capt. Donald Edwards said this week. “We’ve had some pretty good success and got tips on many cases. We’re excited about this new feature because it opens up the door for the ease of sending messages and the ability to attach pictures.”
The new app is an expansion of Tip411, a high-tech system that allows for anonymous texting of tips. Unrolled last summer, the Tip411 system has been utilized approximately 30 times for anonymous tips, ranging from those on murders to what Edwards called “day-to-day complaints,” which can be suspicious activity or other incidents where someone does not want to call 911.
Under that system, anyone with information could text 847411 using the key words TIPCPD as the first words of the message and then text the tip. While they will still be able to do that, the new app allows pictures to accompany texted tips, all while circumventing superfluous texting.
“The ability to send pictures with this new app is easier than the texting because you don’t have to put in 847411 or type the prefix TIPCPD before the message,” Edwards explained. “It comes to us and comes up pretty simple. You put in ‘new tip,’ type in whatever message you want, take a picture and submit the tip. It makes it so much easier, so much quicker when you can open the app.”
The command staff and detective sergeant receive the incoming tips to their cell phones and email. That will remain the case with the new app, which utilizes RAIDS Online technology through Citizen Observer.
“So even if we’re off on weekends we’ll see it,” said Edwards, “We set it up so command staff and (Detective Sgt.) Robbie King could receive those, so that way you have several people looking at it.”
By simply opening the app, tipsters will see options “What/subject, where/location and details/description” where they can insert information, as well as snap a quick picture.
“We never see any of the information,” said Edwards. “If somebody is texting or using the app and communicating with us, we never know who the person is unless they decide to share their information. If it’s a day-to-day situation and they just want an officer to ride through the area, then one of the command staff will notify an on-duty supervisor to tell them what the message is and they’ll have an officer check on it.”
Edwards stressed that the process is completely anonymous.
“One thing we want to make sure people do understand is that this is anonymous,” the captain remarked. “If they have a picture of anything — suspicious people, vehicles, anything else — they can snap a quick picture of it and submit it through the app, which is free.”
Texts are routed to a software company where all subscriber information is omitted before being sent to police, where six individuals have been assigned to review and disseminate the tips to the appropriate division. The web-based texting tool allows residents to remain anonymous yet receive responses back from police via emails sent to them by the software company.
When it was first unveiled, Police Chief Jay Tilley called Tip411 a “great system,” alluding to the improvements that would come with pictures. That time is here.
“We realize that technology is some of our best tools in helping to solve crimes, and we want to be proactive in using them. Everyone has a camera phone these days,” Tilley said. “They can now use those phones to take photos of crimes they may see in progress and send to us. It opens up a whole new avenue to us. There are so many advantages, it’s unbelievable.”
Whether it’s someone believed to be breaking a traffic law or a suspicious vehicle in a neighborhood, residents will be able to take photos and submit them for police to investigate.
“It does not replace emergency calls,” said Edwards, who implored citizens to “please call 911 if you have an emergency.”
Through Citizen Observer, maps are also formulated that allows agencies such as the Clinton Police Department to see what kind of crimes are being reported and where in their jurisdiction, allowing law enforcement to track trends in criminal activity.
“We realize information is key to successful police work,”Tilley has said, “and we are tying to open every avenue possible to obtain that information.”
“We’re making it a whole lot easier,” Edwards added. “The app opens up automatically and you can type in information. The ability to send pictures is really huge. We’re looking forward to using that.”
Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.