Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: email@example.com
Picking up and dialing from a pay phone is the best way to give an anonymous crime tip to police. Or is it? With pay phones becoming extinct, the Boston Police Department has come up with a way for people to use their cell phones to offer police information about crimes anonymously--by text messaging.
Tipsters enter the word "TIP" into their phones and send it to C-R-I- M-E, or 27463. They get a message back asking whether they witnessed a violent crime, drug or gang activity or something else. If it's an emergency, they are told to dial 911.
The mobile phone number of the person sending the message is never disclosed to the police. The tips are identified by a six-digit tip code. The police say that using text messages can be safer for people in dangerous areas, who face the risk of being overheard during a phone call.
Boston's text system was rolled out in mid-July and received 50 cell- phone tips in the first week. The effort is part of an overall push to revitalize the city's anonymous crime tip hotline, which is underutilized. After learning about Boston's program, San Diego is considering a similar system.
Text messaging in general is becoming routine. The number of messages sent nationwide in December 2006 was up 92 percent to 18.7 billion, from the 9.7 billion messages sent the previous December, according to CTIA, an industry association. Text is the preferred channel for many teens and young adults, and they are the ones most likely to have information about criminal activity.