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Boston police turn to text messages to fight crime

Crime Stoppers callers can now text in their tips

By Todd R. Weiss
June 18, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Text a tip and help solve a crime.

That's the message the Boston Police Department is sending out with the start of its first-ever program that now lets cell phone users send anonymous text-message crime tips to the city's Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line.

In an announcement Friday, the city unveiled the new initiative, which officials hope will revitalize the long-standing program so it's used by more citizens to report violent crimes. With Crime Stoppers, citizens can anonymously call in -- or now send text messages about -- crime tips that can help police solve such crimes.

"We were finding at crime scenes that while we were setting up investigations, we were seeing more young people who were texting each other" on cell phones, telling their friends what they were seeing, said Boston Police Officer Cecil Jones, the commander of the Crime Stoppers unit. "We just felt that if that's something that they're going to be doing, we felt it would be a good resource. If they felt safe doing that at crime scenes, maybe it could put more information into police hands."

Getting young people involved in reporting crimes is seen as a key to improving crime-fighting efforts, Jones said. While the Crime Stoppers telephone hot line has been around for some 10 years in Boston, it is primarily used by residents over age 30. "I really believe that we need to get to the younger generation," Jones said. "They're out there [where crime is happening]. They're part of the problem and part of the solution. We feel we need to get to these younger adults who have to live with this war of gang violence."

Boston officials said they believe the city's Crime Stoppers texting ability is the first such program in the nation.

According to the CTIA, a Washington-based wireless communications trade group, mobile users sent 18.7 billion text messages in December 2006, up 92% from 9.7 billion messages in December 2005. Text messaging is the preferred channel for many teens and those in 18-to-24-year-old demographic, according to the group. More than 70% of young adults in that age group and almost 60% of teens send text messages every month, according to Seattle-based M:Metrics Inc., a mobile audience data-measurement business.

Since the texting tip-line program began in Boston, about 35 text messages had been received through this morning, Jones said. Some have reported drug sales activity, including information on one drug delivery suspect that detailed the vehicle he drives, license plate numbers and even the location of a Dunkin Donuts store where the suspect regularly stops to eat.

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