The texting program supplements a telephone tip line that has operated in the region for more than 30 years, but officials stressed that it is not meant to replace 9-1-1 as an emergency contact service.
The program allows the public to report crime information by sending a text message to 847411. “SW” should be entered either in the subject line or body of the message in order to direct tips to the proper authorities. Officials said that messages should include as much information as possible.
Once the message is sent, users will receive an automated reply that contains a witness identification number, which can be used to collect possible reward money for information leading to an arrest and conviction, as well as directions about how to proceed.
The text messages are relayed to investigators who can respond and initiate a conversation via the messaging service. Officials said users have complete control and can end the conversation at any time by replying “stop.”
Anonymity is ensured because the message-
processing server scrambles all identification information, officials said.
Text messaging and data rates do apply.
A similar program was adopted in Washoe County schools two years ago and tips submitted by text message soon outnumbered call-in reports, a fact that contributed to the adoption of a texting program region-wide.
Sparks Police Chief Steve Keefer spearheaded implementation of the program after further research showed the effectiveness of the program in police jurisdictions across the country. Keefer said the program is a powerful, creative tool that is made more important by the popularity of text messaging among youth.
Joining Keefer at Monday’s press conference was Washoe County Sheriff Mike Haley, acting Reno Police Chief Steve Pitts, Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong and Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick.
“Anything we can do to enhance Secret Witness through texting is a marvelous and necessary advantage,” Haley said.
Though prank calls are always a concern with anonymous tip lines, “that’s a risk we’re willing to take,” said Katherine Loudon, chairwoman of Secret Witness, a nonprofit organization of volunteers dedicated to solving crime and improving public safety.
Loudon said about 10 percent of calls to the telephone tip line are pranks and she expects that number to hold true for the new texting program.
Secret Witness will proceed with a media campaign of billboards and television commercials during the next several months to raise awareness about the new texting program, said Brock Richter, a board member.
Implementation and operation of the program will cost $4,800 during the next two years, according to Ken Lightfoot, vice chairman of Secret Witness. The Sparks Police Department also used grant money to cover operational costs.
Officials from Secret Witness said the telephone tip line had helped solve more than 1,000 crimes over the last 30 years while more than $10,000 in rewards have been distributed in the last 12 months.