Text messaging, the favorite pastime of kids everywhere, is becoming a widely accepted way to crack down on crime. Police agencies around the world are encouraging citizens to use text messages to report crimes and send in tips. Not only are text messages more discreet and safer in certain situations like kidnappings or burglaries, but people may be more likely to communicate information to the police using the less personal method of texting, as opposed to calling.
Boston has a program called "Text a Tip" where witnesses can simply text the word "TIP" to a crime hotline. They'll then be prompted to respond to a series of automated messages asking questions about the crime. Numbers are encrypted and blocked to ensure callers' anonymity.
Across the world in China, dozens of cities have similar crime-reporting systems. In 2005, Chinese police were able to track down a kidnapping victim and his two kidnappers after the man sent them a text message stating simply that he had been kidnapped. Another feel-good story happened in the Netherlands in 2007 when police broadcasted a text message to people in an area where a boat had been stolen. A woman nearby glimpsed the missing boat and notified the authorities, who found it and the thief soon after.
Sometimes the police send text messages directly to the criminals themselves. In Amsterdam, police officers fought cell phone theft by bombarding stolen phones with messages saying, "This phone has been stolen. Bring it back to the police." Understandably, these so-called "text-message bombs" seemed to be an effective deterrent. Who wants a phone that keeps telling you it's been stolen?
In the United States, residents in many cities can register to be part of an emergency warning system that will notify them on their cell phone of nearby criminal activities, missing persons or suspects on the run. One of the emergency broadcast systems that people can sign up for is an extension of the country's AMBER (America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert program, which is used to catch child abductors. Opt-in setups like these usually charge people a small fee whenever they get a message. The Netherlands, however, is testing a government-sponsored alert system that is free to users.
So if someone says their cell phone is a lifesaver, they may just be speaking literally. For more information about wireless crime-fighting methods and to learn how you can opt in to programs like the AMBER Alert, turn to the next page.