TipSoft allows e-mailing or faxing directly from the database, and helps officers keep a complete and accurate log of where the tips are sent and when they are received. When an officer has hundreds of tips or more, Daniels says the ability to query tips is very helpful. Champaign County receives more than 500 tips each year. Four to five months after a tip has come in, he says the drug unit might come back and ask if a tip came in with a specific address or name. Without the ability to query tips, finding something like that is difficult. TipSoft allows officers to make queries based on the words in the narrative so officers can find what they're looking for in a matter of seconds.The surface of human intel
Champaign County began using TipSoft about three years ago and started accepting Web tips in December 2007. Since then, more than 150 tips have been received through the Internet. Many of them led to an arrest. Daniels says the most substantial tip included digital photos of the suspect that led to the arrest of seven burglars, the recovery of a stolen shotgun, a stolen rifle and a stolen vehicle.
"There was a lot of fear in the neighborhood because of the number of residential burglaries that were occurring, and this tipster was able to take the entire group of burglars out of commission," Daniels says.
In Champaign County, more than 1,000 arrests have been made based on tips. While this is good news, he says it barely scratches the surface of human intelligence.
"We have to market to people, we have to explain to people that there are different ways to contact us anonymously," he says.
Haber foresees a time when fewer and fewer calls are made to tip lines, and more are made through texting and the Internet. "We have to focus on the Internet and texting — that's how people are communicating today," she says. "They're moving away from making phone calls. Web tipping and text tipping are 24/7 and allow people to immediately do what they want to do."
From a Crime Stoppers' perspective — and even from a community policing perspective, she says, "It's all about empowering your community to take an active part in policing themselves and these are great tools for that."
Rebecca Kanable is a freelance writer specializing in law enforcement topics. She can be reached at email@example.com.Reporting aggressive drivers
When teenagers dangerously sped past Alvin Butler Sr. on his way to church, he thought there ought to be a way to report aggressive driving, especially among teens. Thinking about his own 15-year-old daughter, who had sent 11,000 text messages in a month, he came up with a way. Butler, president and CEO of Text Them In Inc., worked with wire2air to create a nationwide system.
Text Them In allows cell phone users to anonymously report a dangerous driver by texting the license plate, state, color and location information along with what happened to TEXTIN (839846). (Example: abcd123 md speeding passing on shoulder 197 bowie state.) If the vehicle's license plate and owner are registered at the Web site (www.textthemin.com), a text message or e-mail immediately is sent to the owner notifying him or her of the incident. The system can be useful not only for parents of teen drivers, but for businesses and fleet managers who need to make sure their drivers are driving safely.
While reports also can be made from www.textthemin.com, drivers are encouraged to pull over to the side of the road to report aggressive motorists. Text messaging is more effective and quicker, and when someone reports a teen driver, for example, the teen's parent receives a text message or e-mail within 2 minutes, Butler explains. "That allows for immediate, corrective action," he says.
Butler realized the program could be very powerful when a close friend, who admitted he was an aggressive driver, said he didn't like the program encouraging millions of additional eyes to be on the look out for aggressive drivers.
"He told me, 'Right now all I have to do is look out for police,' " he says. "'With this, anyone can report me.'"
Butler wants to change the mindset of aggressive drivers and he'll get them in the pocketbook, if needed, by building a system comparable to credit reporting. An insurance company looking to insure a driver would be able to enter a license plate number and receive a report on the driver of that vehicle.
With 30,000 to 100,000 text messages coming per month, Butler says the system also could help law enforcement locate stolen vehicles and vehicles involved in crimes by putting the license plates on a watch list and notifying law enforcement when they are reported.