Public Safety & Homeland Security

Text-a-Tip Programs Promote Campus, Public Safety

The University of Southern California’s text message tip program guarantees user anonymity while promoting campus safety.

by Corey McKenna / December 23, 2009
GT Design

Text-a-tip programs are helping campus police promote school safety by increasing tipsters’ anonymity and easing potential anxiety about providing information. Tip lines have been around a while, but have the disadvantage that the perpetrator could overhear the person on the phone. Web-based tip lines are popular, but they require Internet access.

Police say texting tips is gaining ground because text messaging in general is so popular. Someone could witness something at a party and send a tip to police, without bringing attention to himself or herself.

Campus police at the University of Southern California (USC) promote the service as a way to maintain a pleasant environment for the more than 91,000 fans that may attend a football game. “[If] we’re looking at a measure of success, the fact that it was used at least once every game, then we were successful from that perspective,” said Carey Drayton, chief of USC’s Department of Public Safety.

USC also uses tips from the text-a-tip program as part of its Trojans Care for Trojans (TC4T) program. TC4T is run out of the university’s Division of Student Affairs and encourages community members to help support other members who may be in trouble, distressed or otherwise need help, but don’t want to pick up the phone. Texting gives them another option. 

Text-a-tip programs also are becoming popular in state and city police departments, which collect tips related to public and school safety. Lisa Haber, a detective with the Tampa Bay, Fla., Police Department and program coordinator for the local Crime Stoppers tip line, said the number of tips submitted via text message has been growing since the program’s introduction in June 2009. The Crime Stoppers’ text tip line has received about 75 tips since its inception, Haber said. The local Web-based tip line received about 150 tips per month.

How It Works

Kevin Anderson, founder of text-a-tip software provider Anderson Software, said his company has about 400 law enforcement agencies that use the company’s software, including 50 to 60 school-only accounts, a number he said is growing.

Tips texted over Anderson Software’s system are routed through a third-party company in Canada where they’re stripped of personally identifiable information and assigned an encrypted identifying number, which police can use to communicate with tipsters without compromising their identities.

Further contact with the tipster is facilitated through a secure Web application that a police officer accesses through a mobile device. The police officer logs on to the application and sends the message to the person who provided the tip without ever knowing their identity.