Reporting crimes now just one text message away

With the days of “dropping a dime” in a pay phone to report crimes long gone, Bay Area law enforcement officials are urging residents to instead help collar criminals through text messages.

“So many young people text message these days, that’s why it works so well,” said Tony Fasanella, president and executive director of Bay Area Crime Stoppers, which offers rewards to anonymous tipsters in the nine regional counties.

The text-message system already is in place in the Bay Area, and Crime Stoppers officials plan to launch a massive public-information campaign in the next 30 to 45 days, Fasanella said.

“We’ll have billboards and placards in all the transit systems for the nine Bay Area counties,” he said.

Police departments in Boston and Cincinnati started accepting anonymous text tips about one year ago. Since then, more than 100 communities have taken similar steps or plan to do so, according to Texas-based Anderson Software, a leading provider of the technology. 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 Bay Area counties, residents should text TIP584, type in the crime information, and send it to 274637 — or CRIMES, Fasanella said.

“They’ll get a response within 5 to 10 seconds giving a code number. If they text that code, they can conduct a two-way dialogue with law enforcement totally anonymously,” he said.

While tipsters can still call Crime Stoppers the old-fashioned way, text messaging capability is likely to make the volume of tips double. When Boston adopted the system last year, the first text tip yielded an arrest in a New Hampster slaying. In the 12 months that ended June 15, Boston police logged 678 text tips, nearly matching the 727 phone tips in the same period.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com  

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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