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Police turning to “Text Tipsters”

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

CRIME: LAPD may seek help from youths using cell technology.

By Rachel Uranga, Staff Writer

For years, the LAPD has received crime tips from nervous callers hoping to remain anonymous as they fumble through intimidating questions with police tip-takers.

But in a bid to get more young people to come forward with information to help snare criminals, the department could join a growing number of law enforcement agencies who are encouraging people to text message tips via cell phones.

“It’s a good deal because the younger generation is very text-savvy,” said Lt. Mathew St. Pierre, head of the LAPD’s investigative analysis section.

St. Pierre, whose unit determines what technologies are best suited for the department, said the Los Angeles Police Department is considering setting up a text and online tip service, but there are no immediate plans to do so. Last year the department began working with a company to develop a 911
system that would accept cell-phone pictures from witnesses.

Meanwhile, dozens of other police agencies – from Boston to San Diego – already are taking anonymous tips online and via text message.

The very first day Boston police started accepting text messaging, a tip led to the arrest of a New Hampshire homicide suspect. In Ventura County, cops have nabbed wanted felons through text and online tips. And beginning this fall in San Diego, high school student IDs will include their cell-phone

“It’s the future,” said Cmdr. Michael Charbonnier, the Boston Police Department’s contact for Crime Stoppers, an international program dedicated to rewarding anonymous tipsters for information leading to arrests and convictions.

Since the department implemented its text program last year, tips have doubled, with nearly half coming in from text messaging. This year, the department logged 720 phone tips and 698 text-messaging tips.

“Sometimes it’s the only info and sometimes it’s the piece of the puzzle that led to the arrest,” Charbonnier said. “But it’s a reality in policing. Some people just aren’t comfortable with calling 911.”

At least 70 law enforcement agencies have added text messaging to their tip lines and 100 others are in the process of adopting a text-messaging system, said Kevin Anderson, the CEO of Anderson Software LLC, a Texas-based company that provides the service for $50 a month.

In the South Bay, however, no police departments or the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have such a system.

“It sounds innovative,” Hermosa Beach police Sgt. Paul Wolcott said.

Torrance police and sheriff’s officials say they are working on a text message-based tip system.

“Currently our system is not able to accept text messages from the outside,” Torrance police Officer Dave Crespin said. “We are in the process of seeing how we can change our system to accept that.”

Hawthorne police do not have a system to accept text messages, but they do receive tips online.

“The closest thing we have is from e-mail,” Hawthorne police Lt. Mike Ishii said. “We do get them on our Website.”

El Camino College is installing a new system that will allow text messages to be sent to students to inform them of an emergency. The system, however, will not accept tips.

In Boston, here’s how the system works: After text messaging CRIME via a cell phone, a confirmation pops back. “Thx. We’ll ask U a few questions. Remember, ur tip is 100% anonymous. If this is an emergency, hang up & dial 911. Txt HELP 4 info/STOP 2 end. Std rates apply.”

A few seconds later another text comes in.

“CS: Your tip best fits into which category? A. Violent crime; B. Drugs; C. Gang activity; D. Other. Reply with A, B, C or D to continue.” On the other end sit four sworn officers who field the calls and text
message back and forth to determine if they warrant investigation or are the rare prank.

The technology is especially appealing for a generation that relies on instant messaging and texting and who often consider the cell phone an appendage.

“Kids don’t make phone calls, they text,” said Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, specializing in how people interact with technology.

“This comes up everywhere. It even comes up with how you notify about potential danger,” he said, noting the April 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, where officials e-mailed students but failed to text message them. The result, he said, was a lot of unaware students.

Still, the LAPD’s St. Pierre says there really is no substitute to one-on-one interviewing of a witness.

“You really want to talk to those witnesses,” he said. “(Texting) is a useful tool, but as an investigator you always want a chance to talk to the witness because there are things you can gain from conversation that you just can’t get from words.”
Article Last Updated: 06/30/2008 11:51:40 PM PDT

Cell Phone Use

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

The new cell phone law now in affect! We have provided a list of commonly asked questions.

Q: When do the new wireless telephone laws take effect?
A: The new laws take effect July 1, 2008.
Q: What is the difference between the two laws?
A: The first prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle, (Vehicle Code (VC) §23123). Motorists 18 and over may use a “hands-free device.” Drivers under the age of 18 may NOT use a wireless telephone or hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle (VC §23124).
Q: What if I need to use my telephone during an emergency, and I do not have a “hands-free” device?
A: The law allows a driver to use a wireless telephone to make emergency calls to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, the fire department, or other emergency services agency.

Q: What are the fines(s) if I’m convicted?
A: The base fine for the FIRST offense is $20 and $50 for subsequent convictions. With the addition of penalty assessments, the fines can be more than triple the base fine amount.

Q: Will I receive a point on my driver license if I’m convicted for a violation of the wireless telephone law?
A: No. The violation is a reportable offense, however, DMV will not assign a violation point.

Q: Will the conviction appear on my driving record?
A: Yes, but the violation point will not be added.

Q: Will there be a grace period when motorists will only get a warning?
A: No. The law becomes effective July 1, 2008. Whether a citation is issued is always at the discretion of the officer based upon his or her determination of the most appropriate remedy for the situation.

Q: Are passengers affected by this law?
A: No. This law only applies to the person driving a motor vehicle.

Q: Do these laws apply to out-of-state drivers whose home states do not have such laws?
A: Yes.

Q: Can I be pulled over by a law enforcement officer for using my handheld wireless telephone?
A: Yes. A law enforcement officer can pull you over just for this infraction.

Q: What if my phone has a push-to-talk feature, can I use that?
A: No. The law does provide an exception for those operating a commercial motor truck or truck tractor (excluding pickups), implements of husbandry, farm vehicle or tow truck, to use a two-way radio operated by a “push-to-talk” feature. However, a push-to-talk feature attached to a hands-free ear piece or other hands-free device is acceptable.

Q: What other exceptions are there?
A: Operators of an authorized emergency vehicle during the course of employment are exempt, as are those motorists operating a vehicle on private property.


Drivers 18 and over will be allowed to use a “hands-free” device to talk on their wireless telephone while driving. The following FAQs apply to those motorists 18 and over.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law prohibit you from dialing a wireless telephone while driving or just talking on it?
A: The new law does not prohibit dialing, but drivers are strongly urged not to dial while driving.

Q: Will it be legal to use a Bluetooth or other earpiece?
A: Yes, however you cannot have BOTH ears covered.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow you to use the speaker phone function of your wireless telephone while driving?
A: Yes.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow drivers 18 and over to text message while driving?
A: The law does not specifically prohibit that, but an officer can pull over and issue a citation to a driver of any age if, in the officer’s opinion, the driver was distracted and not operating the vehicle safely. Sending text messages while driving is unsafe at any speed and is strongly discouraged.


Q: Am I allowed to use my wireless telephone “hands-free?”
A: No. Drivers under the age of 18 may not use a wireless telephone, pager, laptop or any other electronic communication or mobile services device to speak or text while driving in any manner, even “hands-free.” EXCEPTION: Permitted in emergency situations to call police, fire or medical authorities (VC §23124).

Q: Why is the law stricter for provisional drivers?
A: Statistics show that teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to be involved in crashes because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks. Teen drivers are vulnerable to driving distractions such as talking with passengers, eating or drinking, and talking or texting on wireless devices, which increase the chance of getting involved in serious vehicle crashes.

Q: Can my parents give me permission to allow me to use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: No. The only exception is an emergency situation that requires you to call a law enforcement agency, a health care provider, the fire department or other emergency agency entity.

Q: Does the law apply to me if I’m an emancipated minor?
A: Yes. The restriction applies to all licensed drivers who are under the age of 18.

Q: If I have my parent(s) or someone age 25 years or older in the car with me, may I use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: No. You may only use your wireless telephone in an emergency situation.

Q: Will the restriction appear on my provisional license?
A: No.

Q: May I use the hands-free feature while driving if my car has the feature built in?
A: No. The law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from using any type of wireless device while driving, except in an emergency situation.

Q: Can a law enforcement officer stop me for using my “hands-free” device while driving?
A: For drivers under the age of 18, this is considered a SECONDARY violation meaning that a law enforcement officer may cite you for using a “hands-free” wireless device if you were pulled over for another violation. However, the prohibition against using a handheld wireless device while driving is a PRIMARY violation for which a law enforcement officer can pull you over.