By CRISTIN REECE
The Palestine Police Department is about to pick up some speed on the information superhighway.
Palestine City Council members approved entering into a contract with Tip411 during the regular council meeting held Aug. 26, after officers presented data collected during a recent survey conducted by the department. Tip411 is a web-based community notification system that would allow the PPD to receive anonymous tips via text and email as well as help local officers use social media, like Facebook, to help solve crimes and alert the community about what’s happening in their neighborhoods.
According to Tip411’s parent company, the Citizen Observer’s website, law enforcement can use its service to “engage the public as a force multiplier by creating awareness through group alerts, expanding that reach through social media sites, and giving the ability for citizens to provide immediate, anonymous tips and intelligence.”
PPD officers surveyed residents of Palestine for 90 days through the summer months. Surveys were mailed to all city water customers and officers manned booths during civic events and at local retail outlets to offer surveys to people. Powell said 300 surveys were collected.
“We were pleased with the results of our survey,” Lt. Jeff Powell told council members during the meeting. “But we were kind of dismayed with the very low numbers of surveys we actually received — not too many people seemed to want to participate in it.”
Powell said while response may have been quite low, those responders who did participate overwhelmingly voted yes to seeing their local police utilize new technology and integrate the Internet into local police work.
“Ninety percent of those surveyed responded yes to questions like ‘Would you like to be notified of incidents in your area?’, ‘Would you like to see the department post a crime map on its website?’, and ‘Would you like to receive notice of city events?’ Ninety eight percent said they would sign up for the program, and yes, everyone would be required to sign up for it,” Powell said.
Councilman Steve Presley wanted to know how the department would handle the anonymous tips received via the service.
“Does each text constitute a call to the police? Every email generate a report? How’s that going to work with all the regular calls an officer gets already,” Presley asked.
Palestine Police Chief Robert Herbert told council members, “Other departments have started using this and we can and will learn from them. We know we still have a lot of work to do to make it work effectively for our community’s wants and needs.”
Powell said the number of tips the department receives grows every year.
“But our information gets better and better, and would continue to as more people signed up for Tip411,” he said. “We can pinpoint crimes better — it helps show where problems are.”
Powell said the service is already being used in numerous police departments around the country and in Texas, including Round Rock, Plano, Allen, Cedar Park, Austin, El Paso and the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and could be operational in Palestine in as little as a month once the two-year contract — which includes ongoing training, graphics and content for use in awareness campaigns, user support, and technical support, states the company website — is signed.
“This is just one more sign our police department is moving into the 21st century,” Councilman Jim Yelverton said.
Powell also explained the service would not replace 9-1-1 and anyone needing law enforcement, fire or medical help in an emergency situation is urged to call 9-1-1.