Thursday, July 03, 2008

Police Looking For A Few Good Rats

And The Younger, The Better

TAMPA, Fla. — "Police in the 1970s urged citizens to "drop a dime" in a pay phone to report crimes anonymously. Now in an increasing number of cities, tipsters are being invited to use their thumbs - to identify criminals using text messages. (Didn't know that criminals using text messages was that big a deal. Editor)

Police hope the idea helps recruit teens and 20-somethings who wouldn't normally dial a Crime Stoppers hot line to share information with authorities.

"If somebody hears Johnny is going to bring a gun to school, hopefully they'll text that in," said Sgt. Brian Bernardi of the Louisville, Ky., Metro Police Department, which rolled out its text-message tip line in June.

Departments in Boston and Cincinnati started accepting anonymous text tips about a year ago. Since then, more than 100 communities have taken similar steps or plan to do so. The Internet-based systems route messages through a server that encrypts cell phone numbers before they get to police, making tips virtually impossible to track.

In Louisville earlier this week, Bernardi's computer displayed a text message from a person identified only as "Tip563." It read: "someone has vandalized the school van at valor school on bardstown rd in fern creek." The note also reported illegal dumping in a trash container and in the woods.

"It's obvious that the future of communication is texting," said officer Michael Charbonnier, commander of the Boston Police Department's Crime Stoppers unit. "You look at these kids today and that's all they're doing. You see five kids standing on the corner, and they're texting instead of having a conversation with each other."

When Boston adopted the system last year, the first text tip yielded an arrest in a New Hampshire slaying. In the 12 months that ended June 15, Boston police logged 678 text tips, nearly matching the 727 phone tips during the same period.

Lisa Haber, a sheriff's detective who heads the Tampa-area Crime Stoppers unit, recently spent an hour exchanging 21 text messages with a tipster about a possible stolen car. It didn't yield an arrest, but Haber said it allowed her to glimpse the potential of being able to communicate in real time with texters. A marketing blitz will help get the word out when students return to school later this summer."

So if you've a mind to blame your weirdo neighbor that no one likes anyway for dumping his trash in the woods, or better yet, want to see that rival gangbanger take some lumps, then text on over to the fuzz of your choice and do their job for them.

For free. Just being a good citizen after all. And then they can ask for millions to upgrade their text messaging capabilities and soon we'll all be paying lots more taxes for yet another system that doesn't pay off.

Probably what bothers me the most is their targeting of kids. Adults don't spend their days sending one mangled missive after moms don't count...and children will learn to use this "service" as payback for real or imagined wrongs. This isn't to say all of us shouldn't become more involved in reporting real crimes, but its getting harder and harder to define what a real crime is.

"Mr. Curmudgeon hasn't mowed his grass in a month!"

"Miss Shapely left her curtains open last night!"

"Mr. Hobo hasn't changed his socks in weeks!"

"Mrs. Loose had a man over while her husband wasn't home!"

And but of course the piece de resistance*...

"I think I saw that man with a gun!"

*French for the bestest there is.

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