Police use texting to get tips from students

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Associated Press

Posted on January 23, 2013 at 7:01 AM

SOMERSET, Ky. (AP) — A south-central Kentucky police department is trying to make schools safer by using a technology that many students are already familiar with: texting.

The Somerset Police Department told the Commonwealth Journal (http://bit.ly/VXAR8r) that it implemented the new "See-Hear-Report" program on Monday.

Lt. Shannon Smith noted that many high school students take cellphones to school and said the system allows students and others to have "a direct line to Somerset Police." He said concerns about safety can be sent anonymously to officers by way of texting or through the Internet.

"They (texters) should not fear sending that information to us because we don't know who sent it," Smith said in a statement. "Students are encouraged to submit tips about school violence, bullying, drugs, or other concerns that may affect school safety. Their texts and web tips will be confidential and anonymous."

Acting Somerset Police Chief Doug Nelson said he got the idea while attending an International Association of Chiefs of Police conference when he heard about a similar program in Colorado that targets bullying.

"Students may be apprehensive about divulging sensitive information to an officer face-to-face," Nelson said in the press release. "Text messaging is a common communication method for them these days and we want to make it easy for them to pass information to us that could save lives."

Smith said a Utah company is helping the police department provide the service.

"The tips go through different computer servers that strip away personal information and give the sender a unique identifying code as an alias name," Smith said. "That alias and the tip is the only information the police officers receive.

"Officers can reply to the message, but they will have no idea to whom they are conversing," Smith continued. "Likewise, the alias would be the only name officers would know should a reward be offered for certain information."

Nelson said it is a good way for the department to connect with the younger generation.

"Students today are growing up in a digital age," he said. "Therefore, it's important for the law enforcement community and our police department to offer different ways to interact with our youth."

Although it is targeted to students, Smith says anyone can use it by sending a message to "CRIMES" with "SOMERSETPD" and the tip in the message.

The cost of the program will run about $2,000 annually.

"That is money well spent if this prevents something from going on in our schools," Smith said. " ... We wouldn't be investing the time and effort and the money to launch this if we didn't think this wasn't a route worth taking."

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Information from: Commonwealth Journal, http://www.somerset-kentucky.com

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