(TNS) — Embracing the notion that people live through their smartphones, local law enforcement is now part of that mix.
Police Chief Shane D. Woodson, Deputy Chief Jose A. Dingui and Town Manager Ronald San Angelo unveiled a free app that will allow anyone who downloads it to submit anonymous tips to police and receive alerts from the police.
During a news conference Monday, the trio urged residents to download the custom-branded "Southbridge PD" app, developed by Tip411.
Launched in recent weeks, the app is available for download through the Google Play Store, the iTunes app store, and the Police Department's website at www.ci.southbridge.ma.us/police-department.
Residents who don't have a smartphone can text tips to 847411 with the keyword SOUTHBRIDGEPD.
Deputy Chief Dingui said authorities would prefer to receive anonymous tips about "nuisance" type activities, such as if a person suspects his neighbor is dealing drugs, or if someone has information about bullying in the schools. Maybe a fight has been planned, or an underage keg party in the woods is in the works.
But the app is not meant for reporting crimes that are in progress, the chief said. In those instances, police want to receive 911 calls.
Police put money aside to purchase the app in partnership with the town manager's substance abuse advisory committee, which recently launched an educational push to combat substance abuse.
The app speaks to the enforcement part of the task force's mission, meaning to put drug peddlers in jail, Mr. San Angelo said.
The app can provide comfort that the sender's message remains anonymous, and it's a tool for people who love and care about the community to work with the police against those who "want to kill our children through this poison," the manager said of narcotics dealing.
Chief Woodson said he supports the app because police can't be everywhere at once, while civilians are "our eyes and ears when we can't be here, and we need them to report crimes."
Deputy Chief Dingui demonstrated by sending a tip to himself about drug dealing on Main Street.
There's an option for the sender to add a photo of the suspect.
The tip went through almost instantaneously, setting off a somewhat annoying-sounding and repetitious alert on his computer. The tip also went to his phone and email, he said.
"Right now my dispatcher should be getting the same thing," the deputy chief said, adding that there's a backup system for the tip to be sent to the chief, lieutenant, detective sergeant and duty sergeant.
He said it was important to note that it allows the police to ask the sender follow-up questions, such as the particular address or apartment number.
From the other side, the app allows police to send alerts.
People who already downloaded the app received an advisory about congested traffic on Main Street during last week's Halloween parade. It will also be used to announce parking restrictions during snow emergencies.
Also, it will be helpful to police if, for instance, there's an armed robbery suspect running through backyards and police are in pursuit, the deputy chief said. An alert would be sent to residents advising them of an armed and dangerous person and cautioning them to stay in their homes.
A person might be able to respond that he or she saw the suspect on a particular street.
It may also be helpful to someone who can't call 911 but is in danger.
The app is being used on a one-year trial to see if it's worthwhile, the deputy chief said.
Tip411 is used by 1,500 communities in the U.S., according to the company's website. A spokesman did not immediately respond to an email asking which Massachusetts communities are using it.
Worcester police use Tipsoft to accept anonymous tips via text message to 274637 TIPWPD and they receiving anonymous messages via web at www.worcesterma.gov/police.
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