Hope is that youths will take part
By Noah Haglund
The Post and Courier
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Tipsters have a new way to communicate with local law enforcement in secret: by text message.
Type to stop crime
To text a tip to Crime Stoppers:
-- Dial CRIMES, or 274637.
-- Start a new text message using the term "Tip213" and then a space before including the crime details you want to send.
-- You will then receive an alias number and instructions. The alias number can be used to check on a reward if your tip leads to an arrest.
-- Additional messages from the same phone or about the same tip will not receive a reply.
-- Crime Stoppers suggests tipsters then delete their tips from their phones for their own safety.
Crime Stoppers of the Lowcountry became one of the first such programs in the country with the ability to receive anonymous written messages by cell phone. Sister organizations in Seattle and Boston got there first, though about 20 others throughout the country were expected to join their ranks today, local Crime Stoppers Chairman Frank Morea said Monday.
"This is just a tool we hope will open up the door to a younger generation that is more likely and prone to send a text message," Morea said at a news conference at the Charleston Police Department.
Organizers hope that adding texting to phone and Web tips will make inroads with youths, especially at local schools. Crime Stoppers offers up to $1,000 for information that leads to an arrest in a crime, as well as up to $500 for helping authorities recover guns on school property.
Discussions about accepting text messages began about a year and a half ago, Morea said. Guarding the sender's message, however, posed a technical problem. To make it work, they needed a way to cleanse the message of information leading back to the sender.
Texas-based Anderson Software, the local program's technical partner, worked out a solution by sending the text tips first to a server in Canada. There, the cell phone number is encrypted and forwarded to Anderson's server in the U.S. The Canadian server does not keep the information.
Crime Stoppers: 5541111.com.
In Texas, Anderson's server assigns an alias to the message and sends that name, along with the original message, back to Crime Stoppers. Replies from Crime Stoppers follow the same process in reverse.
Morea said the Canadian detour was necessary because our neighbors to the north have stricter privacy laws that protect the crime tips.
"It was the only way we felt we could ensure the identity of the caller," Morea said.
The process will not work with the main tip number, 554-1111. Texters will have to punch in CRIMES, or 274637, and mark the beginning of the message as "tip213."
Local jeweler Lowcountry Diamond & Gold paid for the service.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said the new setup could help elicit tips from youths who are more comfortable texting than carrying on an old-fashioned phone conversation.
"This could be a great tool for prevention," Wilson said. "Although most of the folks from our generation can barely text, the young people are well versed in it."
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