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Cherokee police ask citizens to text their tips

Crime reporting in the region has moved into the digital age, thanks to the Cherokee Police Department’s new text-a-tip program.

The system offers tipsters the option to text, via their cell phones, about crime they know about. This can be done anonymously, and the text-a-tip program has the added option of online reporting.

“It is good,” said Bo Taylor, a resident of the Big Cove community, and leader of the neighborhood watch. “Our only issue is everywhere in Big Cove is not accessible to the Internet, or has good phone coverage.”

Police Chief Ben Reed said the new program gives his department another weapon in their arsenal to use against criminals, while simultaneously offering the community another avenue to stay connected to the organization tasked with keeping them safe.

“I thought it would be a good way for the public to report crime anonymously,” Reed said. “A lot of people want to contribute and talk but they don’t want to put their name out there.”

Reed said the system is not only targeting would-be informants wishing to protect their identities, but also those too busy to use traditional means of reporting.

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“A lot of people communicate though texting and we saw that it was a convenient way to target the amount of people that do text on a daily basis.”

The system itself is simple to operate – a text to the designated number along with keyword “saferez” will instantly reach the department’s e-mail system. It’s then forwarded to the appropriate officers to investigate the charge.

The data sent to police is encrypted on multiple levels, so it’s impossible for investigators to track the sender, making it a truly anonymous report. Citizens can choose to allow the department to text them a response to the tip, but their phone number still won’t be available to investigators.

Reed said that although many of the tips they get are for drug-related crimes, he wants residents to know that the system isn’t just a drug-reporting line.

“It’s important for people to know that this is designed to report any crime, not just drug crime,” Reed said. “You can report child abuse, neglect, information on theft, open investigations, assault, drug crimes, traffic crimes, anything.”

Cherokee isn’t the first to implement such a program; tip texting has become part of the reporting system at larger police departments around the country in places such as San Francisco and Boston, where police said they struggled for decades against a strong anti-snitching culture. But Reed said that his department is the first to offer the service in this area.

Cherokee offers the service through a company called TipSoft, which sells and operates a wide-ranging menu of software designed to help law enforcement officials track, report and stop crime in an increasingly digital era.

Reed said they’re employing text-a-tip as one facet of a new digital approach to crime prevention. Soon, he said, they’ll be rolling out online programs that will allow residents to access digital maps of the crime in their area and see constantly updated crime statistics for the entire reservation.

Reed said he sees far-reaching implications for these new, hi-tech crime-fighting techniques, and hopes that they will engage the younger generation to actively work against crime in the community.

“We want to target younger people as well with this by promoting it in the school system to help prevent bullying,” said Reed.

Such measures might also help relieve community tensions that have built surrounding arrests and prosecutions on the reservation. At a special public meeting on law and order held last month, Reed fielded complaints from more than a few citizens who lamented witnessing crimes in their neighborhoods but having little police response, especially in outlying areas of the reservation.

While the crime mapping and statistical services are not yet operational, the text-a-tip server is up and running, and officials said they’ve already seen an uptick in reporting, a trend they hope will continue.

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