A growing number of anonymous tips about crimes are coming from text messages and information submitted online.
Waupaca County Crime Stoppers began to use a program called TipSoft SMS about 1 1/2 years ago, said Brian Hoelzel, a detective sergeant with the Waupaca Police Department.
“Before, we only had a phone number and only received five to 10 tips per year on the tip line,” he said. “Because in today’s day and age everything is computer oriented, that’s why there was a discussion to find something to generate tips. Today’s younger generation uses mobile technology.”
After Waupaca County Crime Stoppers learned software was available to allow for anonymous tips via text messages and through websites, the organization researched how the system worked before purchasing the program, Hoelzel said.
The decision to do so paid off for local law enforcement agencies.
“We received roughly 60 tips last year,” he said.
Those tips were countywide and included drug complaints, arson, weapon complaints, fugitives, thefts and burglary complaints, he said.
This year, about a dozen tips have been received so far.
“All law enforcement agencies that belong to Waupaca County Crime Stoppers have the capacity of using this,” Hoelzel said.
Each department is now set up so that when an alert comes in, an email is sent to the agency with the appropriate information, he said.
“It gets the tips to us quicker,” Hoelzel said.
Tips submitted via text or online are anonymous.
The software also allows police officers to respond by text message to the originating cellphone without knowing the identity of the person who left the tip.
That is because the user’s information is given an alias and unique ID before being sent. That secure application allows for the person leaving the tip and the investigator to have two-way dialog while keeping the user’s identity anonymous.
People may text tips to 274637.
To text a tip to that number, begin the text to “Waupaca” (do not use spaces) plus the message and then send it.
The system will automatically reply with a confirmation that contains the person’s unique Tip ID.
Those wanting to submit follow-up information simply reply to that confirmation.
When a tip is sent, it is encrypted and routed through secure servers to protect the personal details of the person providing the tip.
People may also continue to call Waupaca County Crime Stoppers at 1-888-258-9955 to leave tips.
Those tips also remain anonymous.
If a tip results in an arrest, Waupaca County Crime Stoppers pays a reward of up to $1,000 to the caller.
Law enforcement stresses that this service is not for emergencies or when crime is in progress. In those cases, people should call 911.
The organization also hosts the Quick $50 program in the county’s school districts.
Students may text, call the tip line or visit the website to report students who are bringing weapons or drugs onto school property, or to report students who are involved in other criminal activity.
Students may also give tips to their police liaison officers and remain anonymous.
When a tip leads to charges being filed by police, a cash reward of $50 is paid within 24 hours to the person who gave the tip.
“Tips help our departments solve crimes because the citizens in the community are our eyes and ears. Many times, the citizens observe crimes that are happening,” Hoelzel said.
He said, “We solve a lot of crimes from witnesses, the people involved in the community. People see things all the time and don’t want to get involved. This is a way for people to get involved and remain anonymous.”
Culver’s Crime Stoppers Night
Culver’s of Waupaca will sponsor Waupaca County Crime Stoppers & Family Night from 5-10 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, at its restaurant on 1045 W. Fulton St.
During Crime Stoppers & Family Night, officers will give away free gun locks and hand out brochures about the ways people may provide tips about crimes.
Local officers will serve food, and 10 percent of sales will be donated to Waupaca County Crime Stoppers.
Hoelzel said the evening at Culver’s will support the Quick $50 program and cost of the TipSoft SMS program.