By Joe Beck
Virginia State Police have launched a mobile application in the hope that iPhone and Android smart phone users can provide valuable tips on suspicious activity.
Corrine Geller, a spokeswoman for the state police, said the information gathered through the app, called See Something, Send Something, is no different in principle than tips police have gathered through traditional telephone hotlines.
"There's no active tracking of anybody," Geller said in an interview. "You snap it or send it, and that's it."
Virginia is the third state to try the app, which allows users to transmit emails, text messages and photos directly to the state police.
State police will review and analyze the information sent within 72 hours. If the tip appears to hold promise in helping an ongoing investigation, the information is forwarded to the relevant law enforcement agency. Unfounded tips and the name and phone number of the tip provider are permanently deleted.
The app is a free download, although standard data rates apply for iPhones and Androids.
State police have received some criticism on its Facebook page from people worried about privacy issues and the possibility that tips deemed irrelevant to an investigation will still linger somewhere in an electronic archive.
Maj. Rick Jenkins, deputy director of the state police bureau of criminal investigations, said in a speech delivered Friday in Woodbridge that See Something, Send Something is an attempt to change with the times.
"For years, you've heard law enforcement encouraging the public to 'call this tip line' and relay any information that may help solve a crime or disrupt ongoing criminal activity," Jenkins said.
"Tip lines have been incredibly effective over the years and have provided invaluable information and evidence to investigators and still do for that matter," he added. "But, as (the) state police is experiencing with our own various 'hot line' numbers, folks just aren't calling in information like they used to.
"Making an actual phone call has gone the way of the pay phone. It's a rare commodity. Today, it's all about texting, instant messaging and posting via one's smart phone or digital device."
Jenkins cited an investigation into a series of arsons on the Eastern Shore last year as an example of the limitations of traditional hot lines. Tips came flowing in on telephone hot lines but "no one could text or send photos to that tip line, which was restrictive for citizens and us," Jenkins said.
"We knew we had to find a better, more efficient way to work with the public in that capacity," Jenkins added.
Pennsylvania was the first state to use the app and Louisiana was the second. Both states have found some success with the tips they received, Geller said.
"Some were unrelated to any kind of investigation, but others have prompted legitimate criminal investigations, Geller said.
The app is not intended to replace 911 and should not be used by those seeking emergency help from police or other public safety agencies.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org