Police say online crime reporting saves officers time

When someone steals your wallet, it may seem impersonal to report the crime on a Web site. But Bay Area police departments say a move toward online reporting of minor offenses is getting officers away from their desks and out on patrol.

A handful of those departments have launched siteswhere visitors can report so-called “suspectless” crimes, such as bicycle and cell-phone theft, vandalism and lost property. In San Mateo, where it takes an officer about 40 minutes to complete a crime report, that translates into more than eight workweeks per year, according to Lt. Tom Daughtry.

The San Francisco Police Department started taking crime reports on the Web two years ago, and the response has been “phenomenal.” Now, 10 percent to 12 percent of all reports are filed online, according to Lt. Bill Gitmed.

“If we don’t have to send an officer out to take a report, the officer is available to respond to more emergency calls,” Gitmed said. It also leaves more time for preventative patrol and interaction with the community.

Although a handful of users have said the technology is tough to navigate, most find it easier and quicker than filing a report by phone or in person.

That means more people wind up reporting crimes, which is good news for cities like San Francisco, where many residents are reluctant to do so, according to Gitmed.

“That’s important, so we can determine where certain patterns and trends are occurring,” he said.

Tech-savvy Bay Area residents seem to be taking well to the Internet trend. In San Mateo, 518 reports were filed in the first six months after the Web feature was launched. That number nearly doubled in the second six months, Daughtry said.

San Francisco’s model has become so successful, Gitmed constantly receives requests from other cities that want to learn how to let citizens report crimes online. Millbrae launched its Web-reporting interface one month ago, and Redwood City plans to roll out a similar service in the next six to 12 months.

“Many people who want to file a report might not reside in our area, or they find out much later they were the victims of a crime,” Redwood City police Chief Carlos Bolanos said.”It’s useful to give people another alternative.”

In all cases, police officers will still come to the door if a resident asks to file a report in person.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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