July 14, 2008

Louisville Offering New Ways for Tipsters to Contact Police

By Shelley Byrne, The Paducah Sun, Ky.

Jul. 14--Anonymously reporting a crime is only a phone call, a mouse click or a cell phone text message away in many places.

Crime Stoppers and similar programs across the nation are beginning to offer multiple ways for tipsters to help them solve crimes. Many use TipSoft, a popular tip database manufactured by Anderson Software of Nacogdoches, Texas.

West Kentucky Crime Stoppers uses TipSoft, but does not have add-ons that allow anonymous tip reporting online or by cell phone. Crime Stoppers board members have discussed the options and may add them in time, said Paducah police Detective Sgt. George Johnson, the West Kentucky Crime Stoppers law enforcement coordinator.

"We're just trying to take baby steps right now," he said. "We've been tossing around trying to have a Web site, maybe having the 'most wanted' posted someplace."

The Louisville Metro Police Department paid $2,000 and began accepting tips to its crime tip hotline via cell phone text message last month. So far the department has received 20 tips, but it has not yet made any arrests, Louisville Metro Sgt. Brian Bernardi said. Several text message tips are being investigated by the narcotics division, he said.

"So far it's worked very well," he said.

The system ensures anonymity by routing the original text message through a third-party service that scrambles the phone number and then sends the message on to police.

Louisville Metro already accepted Internet-based tips and tips through a postage-paid postcard. The hotline also has phone calls answered locally 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The line receives about 2,500 tips monthly.

"We're trying to stay on the cutting edge, too, and trying to reach new demographics," Bernardi said.

Several cities have begun using the text message tips program since its launch a few months ago. They include Seattle, Fresno, Calif., San Diego County, Tampa, Fla., and Kansas City. Roughly 100 other communities are making plans to use it, said Kevin Anderson, chief executive officer of Anderson Software. He expects police agencies in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and Pittsburgh to begin text messaging tips by this fall.

Meanwhile, some cities are now receiving more than half of their anonymous tips by Internet instead of by phone. Boulder, Colo., for example, receives 70 percent of its tips by Internet, Anderson said.

TipSoft's Web-based tip program protects tipsters' identities by not capturing IP addresses --numerical codes specific to a computer -- and through daily auditing by a server security firm, Anderson said.

"Many of our Web tips are hugely successful," Anderson said. "It's just the best thing going right now."

Communities that use Internet-based tipping have not seen large decreases in tips coming in by phone, either, Anderson said. "We know we're tapping into a whole new demographic of tipster."

He hopes text messaging will be just as effective in reaching a new audience.

"It took about a year before we really saw the acceptance level (of Internet tips) get out there and really start going," Anderson said. "We think we're really going to see the same thing with the text messaging."

Shelley Byrne can be contacted at 575-8667.



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