During a string of shootings and other violence in Hartford in recent months, Hartford Police Chief Daryl Roberts said one of the biggest obstacles to finding the offenders was the fear and reluctance of residents to come forward.
Monday, state and city police introduced a new, yet simple tool that Roberts and other members of law enforcement hope will bring more cooperation from the public: text messaging.
Members of the public may now anonymously send text message tips about crimes via cellphones or other texting devices to state police or to police in five Connecticut cities. It is not for reporting crimes in progress or emergencies, police said.
"It will combat the non-snitch campaign," Roberts said, referring to the 'Don't Snitch' T-shirts he has seen around the city. People are also afraid they will be targeted if they are seen talking to police.
"We believe there are more good people out there than bad and that they really want to do the right thing," Roberts said.
The new system, called "Text-a-Tip," was introduced Monday at a press conference at state police headquarters in Middletown. In attendance were Roberts and police from Bridgeport, Stamford, Waterbury and New Haven, the other participating departments that have their own tip lines under the program.
Dozens of other U.S. cities, including Boston, Tampa, Pittsburgh and Houston, are using the texting program either through police department or Crime Stoppers programs.
Connecticut state police officials say theirs is the first state police agency in the nation to offer blanket coverage with a tip program, meaning they will collect tips from every city and town and pass it on to local departments. The five city departments that have their own tip lines will handle their own calls, police said.
Public Safety Commissioner John A. Danaher had heard about the texting program being used in other cities across the country and the world and asked George J. Pohorilak, director of Connecticut's statewide emergency telecommunication system, if it could be done here.
Pohorilak was quickly able to connect the state with the Canadian company that provides the $8,000 program and set it up for the state.
He said text messages are much more quickly transmitted than voice mails and go through even when cellphone systems are overloaded.
"And it's totally anonymous," he said.
Danaher acknowledges he didn't know how to send a text message himself; all he knew was that his kids were spending too much money doing it.
Danaher said "a young sergeant" taught him how to text message so he could see how the tip system works.
"We all know kids spend an enormous amount of time texting," Danaher said.
In Bridgeport, Deputy Chief Joseph L. Gaudett Jr. said he plans to incorporate the tips program into anti-gang education being taught at the middle school.
"We're hoping it creates a whole new culture [of tipping off police]," he said.
Here's how it works: Residents simply text "CRIMES" or 274637 and then once in the message field enter a code for the state police or one of the cities, leave a space, and send the message. The code for the state police is TIP711. A reply should follow that the message was received.
Tips are sent electronically to a main server that is not associated with any police agency, and the server strips the message of its identifying information before sending the tip back to the police agency for whom it was intended, police said.
Pohorilak said when he checked into how the system has functioned in other places, "it's all success stories in terms of tips coming in and crimes being solved."
"You may have some pranks coming in, but if you solve some major crimes, it's all worth it," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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