Have a Hot Tip for the Cops? Text It In!

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Why not use technology specific to mobile phones to better inform police departments about criminal investigations?

Rather than the tiplines of yesteryear, police departments around the country are rolling out tip lines that allow you to send in information via text message. OMG!

It makes total sense. Mobile phones have become pervasive in everyday life, so why not use technology specific to mobile phones to better inform police departments about criminal investigations?

One appealing trait of the old-school tiplines was that they were anonymous. In other words, if you wanted to provide information, but not give away your identity, you could still do so. People are often "too close" to a situation and might implicate themselves if they aren't careful, hence the ability to provide anonymous tips.

According to the Associated Press, the systems used by police departments to process incoming tips are encrypts and "anonymizes" them. This means that the tips come in with a unique identification tag, and not the associated phone number. I have to wonder, however, if the tip IDs can be un-anonymized so police officers can track down the sender of the tip. It seems to me that that is a distinct possibility. Either way, police departments have already seen some results.

The AP reports, "Lisa Haber, a sheriff's detective who heads the Tampa-area Crime Stoppers unit, recently spent an hour exchanging 21 text messages with a tipster about a possible stolen car. It didn't yield an arrest, but Haber said it allowed her to glimpse the potential of being able to communicate in real time with texters. A marketing blitz will help get the word out when students return to school later this summer."

There's no question that teens and those in their early 20s are heavy users of text messaging services. Convincing them -- and others -- to use SMS technology to contribute to police investigations will take some time. Once SMS tiplines become widespread, they could play a big role in solving crimes.

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