Several police departments across the U.S. are beginning to use Web sites to educate citizens about important police programs.

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SOLUTION SUMMARY

PROBLEM/SITUATION: The law enforcement community finds it valuable to increase public access to crime statistics and safety information, and wants to engage the public in assisting in crime prevention.

SOLUTION: Develop a World Wide Web page on the Internet.

JURISDICTIONS: Spokane, Wash.; Roseville, Calif.; Wilmington, Mass., Nashville, Tenn., Chicago, Phoenix, Ariz., Laramie, Wyo.

VENDORS: Netscape Communications Corp; Internet Onramp; Sacramento Network Access; America Online.

USER CONTACT: John Moore, Spokane Police Department, jdmoore@ior.com; Tim O'Neill, Roseville Police Department (916/774-5145); Joe Harris, Wilmington Police Department (508/657-8082).

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James Evans

Contributing Writer

After more than a year of hosting a publicly accessible World Wide Web page, Officer Tim O'Neill doesn't expect the Roseville Police Department's presence on the Internet to change the way he fights crime -- not yet, anyway. The concept of citizens interacting electronically with law enforcement authorities is too new to realize its potential. Yet O'Neill says he has high hopes for the digital frontier.

And he's not alone. Over the past few years, hundreds of police departments have put up Web pages to interact with area residents.

Located near Sacramento, Calif., Roseville was one of the first police departments in the country to embrace the Web as a means of providing information to -- and receiving tips from -- the public. The connection is also used to communicate with wired departments across the state, nation, and even around the world. The site offers comments from the police chief, address and telephone numbers for the divisions within the department, information about the community policing program, patrol, traffic, investigation, animal control and child services, and the opportunity to send e-mail directly to the department. It also provides links to other state, federal and international police Web pages, including several central depositories of police Web sites like CopNet and Police Agencies on the Web .

But Roseville takes its commitment to public information a step further than most police departments by offering legal materials, such as U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. code and access to the World Wide Web Virtual Law Library.

There are about 200 visits a week to the page, which has drawn comments and questions from police officials around the globe. Yet, O'Neill lamented, the department only gets about five messages a week from local residents, and they are typically questions about the law. "One person asked about having a garage sale, which laws were involved, and if burglaries increased in a neighborhood after a garage sale," he recalled. "I responded that most theft problems occur prior to the sale as the person is setting up. Most of our e-mail is from outside Roseville."

HIGH EXPECTATIONS

Like most law enforcement officials who maintain Web pages, O'Neill cautions people about expecting the Internet, in its current state, to reduce crime or allow police to respond to trends more rapidly. Ultimately, communities have the responsibility for policing themselves, and while the Internet may make some police work more efficient, the telephone still is the technology to use in emergencies. "I'd like to get some forms online so the public can communicate with us without having to send an officer to the location," O'Neill said. "I don't want people to think an officer won't respond if they send e-mail, but I don't want them to think that sending e-mail will get an officer right there. It won't."

O'Neill created and maintains the Web page himself and, except for his own time, there