SHPD wants to go mobile for tips

At Monday’s South Hill Town Council meeting, Police Chief Stuart Bowen suggested the town partner with a Minnesota-based company to develop a mobile application that would allow for anonymous tipping along with other services.
While the program called “tip411” is being used by localities in 40-plus states as well as by the U.S. Air Force, South Hill Police Department would be the first agency in Virginia to implement it if the council gives its approval. Bowen said agencies that use the program report tips have increased by approximately 30 percent.
Tip411 is an application that operates on Apple and Android devices and allows for two-way anonymous electronic tipping, meaning citizens can submit tips through electronic devices without police being able to identify who sent them. The app is free for citizens to download.
“The tips go through the company and are encrypted and coded, so there’s no way that we could find out who sent that text message,” Bowen said.
Even so, police investigators would be able to respond to the anonymous tipster through the application to follow up and communicate in real time about what was reported.
There are also web-based and social media aspects to the program.
Bowen said tip411 allows for police to be able to push information to the public through alerts and notifications, and the program can be linked to the department’s social media accounts, such as its Facebook page.
“We can actually connect the two, so when I push something out through this system, it will automatically go out through our Facebook feed,” Bowen said.
Bowen said people in the community often have the best level of knowledge and understanding about what’s going on in the community, however they don’t always know when to call 911 and/or contact police about what they’re seeing.
He also said the tip411 program would drive down investigation costs and save manpower.
“If the citizens are giving us tips, it reduces the time and manpower to do an investigation,” he said.
Bowen argued a program such as tip411 is necessary in this day and age to increase connectivity with the community and especially younger generations.
“Connectivity is huge now, especially with the younger crowd,” he said. “Being able to have our Facebook page has been huge for us, but then having our own app that will be ours, it will be South Hill’s app… it’s the wave of the future.”
Bowen said the current tip line in Mecklenburg County is underutilized.
“The millennial generation, that’s not how they communicate anymore,” he said. “They’re into texts and apps and smartphones.”
Bowen said he’s spoken with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office about partnering on the tip411 program, and the sheriff’s office has been responsive. He said the program could be set up so that tips could be sent to South Hill Police Department, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office and/or the Southside Drug and Gang Task Force.
Bowen said part of the partnership with the sheriff’s office would be to reach the younger demographics through the school system and school resource officers.