COVINGTON — Big Brother may not be watching, but your neighbor very well could be. The Covington Police Department hopes they’ve found a way to encourage residents to share some of that knowledge with them in a way that absolutely guarantees anonymity and is easy and quick.
They’ve added a new dimension to their website (www.covingtonpolice.com) with a software known as Crime Reports. By using it, every resident has access to local crime reports, crime trends, and can see what’s being done to fight crime within the city.
“A couple of years ago, we started a shift of thinking in our police department to what is called ‘intelligence-led policing,’” said Officer D.J. Seals, who is in charge of the department’s Criminal Intelligence Unit. “Basically what that says is instead of the older police model which says ‘Drive around, do your patrols, answer your calls and if you come upon something, take care of it and move on,’ now, what we do is we take intelligence patterns which have been built over many, many years … I can take that and put in forecasts and crime trends and see, ‘OK, we’re having a pattern of crime here. Let’s focus in that area right now.’”
Using models provided by crime-fighting software, officers can often be on the scene to deter crime rather than just reacting to a crime that has already occurred.
The concept may sound too good to be true, but Seals will assure you, it’s not pie in the sky. He’s holding out another year just to be sure, but he’s got FBI statistics to prove that since implementing that concept in Covington in 2009, crime has dropped. That year, the city had some 1,600 “part 1” crimes reported to the FBI. Part 1 crimes are the big ones such as murder, robbery, rape, burglary, fraud, etc. The year 2010 saw the Covington part 1 crimes drop by 300 and the same held true in 2011. Seals says if the figures hold steady or drop in 2012, he’ll be ready to say for sure intelligence-led policing has done its part in reducing crime locally.
The department now is reaching out into the community to ask citizens to make use of the information offered on their website to help ensure a safer community. Seals promises it is easy even for a novice computer-user.
By going to www.covingtonpolice.com and clicking on the Crime Info tab, the user will be taken to the Crime Reports site. From there anyone can access maps of the city, the zones that are being patrolled, the crimes committed in those zones and the reports they generated.
“We show everything. We’re completely transparent to our citizens because after all, it’s a matter of public record,” Seals said.
From there a resident can also create an alert account and be alerted about crime in any section of the city, on any street, day or night. Also, a resident can submit a tip about a specific crime they learn about on the site or any other matter they feel requires police attention. They do not have to create an alert account to do it. It’s called Tipsoft
“By no mean does Tipsoft replace 911. If you’re having an emergency, you need to call 911; but if you’ve got that annoying thing going on — somebody is selling drugs, somebody is stealing something — you know it, but it’s not happening right now. You’d like to give us that information. You can send us a tip,” he said, adding that the tips are absolutely anonymous.
“If you call the police department, your number is there. You call 911, your number is on there, but this is anonymous because it actually routes the information through a server in Canada, so I can’t subpoena it if I wanted to. That’s to make people feel safe. If they want to give us an anonymous tip, they stay anonymous.”
Seals said the form that pops up on the computer screen to give a tip is quite lengthy, but the tipster can give as much or as little information as they desire. Also, he said, the tipster will be asked if they’d like to come forward and speak with the police.
“We’d like to speak to you personally because we might be able to get a little more information, but if you don’t want to, we’re not going to force it and we’re going to follow through on that tip,” he said.
The tipster will receive word back from Seals that the tip has been received. He will then forward it to the proper party, who will, in turn, keep Seals informed on any investigation that may develop. Seals will let the tipster know if their tip has generated an investigation.
Seals says he doesn’t anticipate any problem with using this software in court and compared it with the use of a confidential informant.
“We don’t have to say who they are, either. We got the information, but we don’t arrest somebody solely on that information. It started an investigation, we found corroborating evidence and made an arrest. The case won’t hinge on the tip,” he said.
Also, Seals said if someone doesn’t have Internet accessibility, many people now have smartphones and an app is available called Tipsubmit that can be used anywhere in the world to send a tip to the nearest police agency that uses Crime Reports.
“This is a great opportunity for people to see what kind of crime is going on in the city and maybe just as important, see what’s not going on. You can also tell us things that are bothering you,” he said. “This is a great way to get people to help us out and by that doing that, help the community out.”
Finally, he urged, for those who don’t use computers and such, the anonymous tip line to CPD is always open. The phone number is 770-385-6431.