Utah residents now have the ability to anonymously report a crime through a new online system that accepts text messages.

Late last month, more than 50 Utah law enforcement agencies announced they would begin utilizing  TipSoft — a national program privately operated by CrimeReports.com that allows the public to submit anonymous crime tips via texting, through a smartphone app or online at the program’s website.

To report crime tips on cell phones, residents can text encrypted tips by sending the message to “274637” (CRIMES). IPhone and Android users may download a free app to submit tips; the app also can take tips via videos or photos.

The submitted information is sent to the agency participating in the TipSoft program that’s nearest to the online tipster.

“Police departments need to adopt the same methods of communication as the general public. To be able to receive crime tips by text message is expected,” Salt Lake City Chief of Police Chris Burbank said in a statement. “Implementing this technology greatly increases the opportunity for citizens to participate with law enforcement in making their neighborhoods safer for everyone.”

According to CrimeReports.com, one out of 14 tips sent through TipSoft results in an arrest. Utah law enforcement agencies will be joining what the vendor says are more than 600 Crime Stoppers programs and law enforcement agencies — including the New York City and Los Angeles police departments — that use TipSoft.

Other similar systems have sprung up across the nation. Last year, Dallas launched a similar program called iWatch Dallas to allow citizens to report crimes or suspicious behavior that could possibly be linked to terrorism. Earlier this year, the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security introduced a public reporting system for suspicious activity that users can access on a mobile device.

Lt. Justin Hoyal, a spokesman for the Greater Salt Lake region’s Unified Police Department, said the program has been operational only for a matter of days. The participating departments voluntarily opted in to the program, which will run 24/7 in law enforcement dispatch centers.

Tip submitters are assigned an anonymous code key so dispatchers can respond back to that code key and communicate with the tipster while maintaining anonymity, Hoyal said.

Although the new program might result in additional work for dispatchers in the participating agencies, Hoyal said the program is a way for entities like the Unified Police Department to keep up with the growing popularity of text messaging and online chat.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.