DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Want to fight crime in Dallas? There’s an app for that!
The “iWatchDallas” program—both on smart phones and online—lets people text and type tips anonymously in real time. No need for a sensitive would-be witness to be seen talking to police, or even phoning officers.
“Everybody’s texting, all day long,” says Dallas Deputy Police Chief Brian Harvey, “so somebody texting something in public is not going to cause a lot of suspicion on their part.”
As the Super Bowl nears, Dallas Police are banking on social media technology to provide them with thousands more citizen eyes and ears. Coded tips go to the police department’s Fusion Center. Writers can’t be traced because of special computer software called “Tip Soft” but police can text them back for important follow-up questions.
“Tip Soft strips the personal identifiers and submits the anonymous information to the customer, in this case the Dallas Police Department,” says Harvey. “We don’t know who it is, but we can correspond with the tipster anonymously.”
Sgt. Eric Roman in the Fusion Center agrees. “We don’t know who they are but we can provide a good exchange of information between the two,” he tells CBS 11 News, “We understand that people don’t like to necessarily get involved too much, but this is just a great forum for them to say they may have information.”
There are real-world successes. Last month’s murder of a restaurant owner generated a legitimate tip after a viewer saw the murder suspect on TV. Police made an arrest independent of the tip but are nonetheless excited it was on the money. “This was a great example of the community sending in information, and it was timely,” says Roman, adding, “It was only two days after the murder.”
Sharing information is vital; although only Dallas Police personnel work in the Fusion Center, they are nonetheless in constant contact with federal agencies and neighboring police departments. “We anticipate with the Super Bowl coming that we might get some information from other jurisdictions,” says Chief Harvey. “We have connections with all these different area agencies.” For example he cited a recent drug tip that came in regarding Fort Worth and the department notified the Fort Worth narcotics office.
Harvey says all tips are first vetted by detectives to make sure a real crime is involved, and not a complaint from someone merely trying to get another person in trouble. “I think the vetting process is very important; we always make sure that there’s criminal predicate to any of these tips before we do any follow-up on them.”
2400 apps have already been downloaded; the department hopes that number will eventually become 75,000. Not all users are local; some users are from out of state. In any case, police caution that iWatchDallas is not a substitute for 9-1-1 calls in a real emergency.