A new program from the Laredo Police Department allows citizens to communicate with police anonymously via text message. Spokesman Joe E. Baeza announced the creation of TIP411 this week, a program powered by web app CitizenObserver that is aimed at expanding the options citizens have to communicate with their police force.
Anyone can text authorities with information they think may be pertinent to an investigation or to report illegal activity, and police have the ability to respond to the tipster to ask for clarification or more information. Anytime the tipster wishes to end the conversation, all he or she has to do is return the text with the word “stop". Since the department involved a third party to handle the text messaging, the conversation remains completely anonymous.
"This new capability will help our citizens play an active role in keeping neighborhoods safer. It will engage a younger demographic in the process and it will save our agency time and resources," said Police Chief Raymond Garner in a statement.
Additionally, on Tuesday police announced the creation of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. "Being up to par with these social media outlets is a great venue for us to promote safety and get vital information out to the community," Baeza said.
Laredo PD could be considered a little late to the game compared to other police departments with establishing a presence on social media. The Boston Police Department leads every other law enforcement agency in the country in the magnitude of their Twitter fan base -- nearly 266,000 followers and counting -- and has been using a “text-a-tip” program, similar to Laredo’s, since 2007.
The text-a-tip program allows Bostonians to send anonymous texts to the department's Crime Stoppers unit. Tipsters receive an automated response, and their number is then hidden by special software. The texter is also reminded later to delete the conversation thread from their phone.
The department receives tips for crimes ranging from bomb threats and drug deals to online suicide notes and homicides. Rewards are even given for tips that prove helpful in an investigation. The program is intended to encourage residents, especially young people, to get involved in the safety of their city and neighborhoods.