Eyewitnesses and insider information make a criminal investigator’s jobs a lot easier, but officials know that sources are sometimes hesitant to come forward due to fears for their safety.
The Newton County Sheriff’s Office is launching a series of new technology-based tools that will allow citizens to report tips anonymously using their computers, smart phones or tablets. While the tools will eventually be used to take tips about all types of crimes, the Sheriff’s Office is initially focusing on tips related to gang activity.
Citizens can submit tips in multiple ways, including:
• Via text by sending a message to 274637 (CRIMES). Citizens must start the message with NCSO and then type the rest of their tip.
• Via the Apple and Android app TipSubmit
• On newtonsheriff.org/gang by clicking on the TipSoft icon
• On newtonsheriff.org by clicking the "Anonymous Tip Line" link
No matter which options citizens use, their phone numbers and identities will remain anonymous to the Sheriff’s Office, because the information is processed and encrypted by a third party company. Citizens are encouraged to use the app if they have a strong wifi connection, but should use the text message number if they don’t.
If citizens have any technical issues, they can contact Sheriff’s Office Webmaster Derrick Barnes at email@example.com or 678-625-1437. Tutorials on the new tools can be found at newtonsheriff.org/gang.
In addition to the new anonymous tip tools, the Sheriff’s Office has added links to resources to help people identify whether activity is really gang-related and how serious it may be.
The website gangsorus.com has a wealth of information about gangs, including types of gangs, how to identify gangs by graffiti, colors, clothing, tattoos, and symbols and gang-related slang.
Sgt. Robert Gaddy, a gang expert in the office’s criminal investigations division, said gangs change colors and other identifying traits over time and the website keeps up with trends.
Citizens who see activity that they believe may be gang-related can send a tip using the new tools, and one of the county’s gang experts will let them know if a gang is involved or if what they’ve observed is more likely the work of harmless teenagers.
"We get calls about gang activity, and this is a way for the citizens to become more educated about gangs," Gaddy said. "We get calls all the time about, ‘What’s this? What’s that?’"
Citizens often have questions about graffiti, and Gaddy said the ability to upload photos using the tip tools will help him and others provide better and faster feedback.
"I can respond and say this is gang-related or not. We’re (also) trying to keep track of what’s going on," Gaddy said. "You may have someone who (saw something who) won’t say anything until two to three weeks later; we’re trying to get out in front of that."
One other important feature of the tip tools is that they allow users to create a password, which they can then use to send subsequent tips about the same suspected gang activity or member.
Capt. Keith Crum said residents/citizens will see a lot more activity in a neighborhood than officers who only ride through, and he said officials hope the new tools will invite more tech-savvy users to assist law enforcement.
"We have more folks who are technically savvy and prefer to use this method rather than call in," Crum said. "The info we get goes through our crime analysts, who compare it to the reports they’re seeing and info from other sources. We see if we can pull it (all) together and get some actionable (evidence) and pass it on to patrol, or see if it needs to go to (our) crime suppression (unit).
"Folks who are active in their community know who doesn’t belong there and know when something shady is going on. This is a mechanism for them to remain anonymous."
Though people are free to give tips anonymously, those who are willing to give their names are encouraged to do so, in case they are needed as eyewitnesses to help prosecute a case in court.
Public Information Officer Cortney Morrison said residents can give as little or as much information as they have. Examples of useful information include an address to which a gang member has recently moved, the name of a gang member’s significant other, the street name or "moniker" of a gang member, and the vehicle description or license plate of a gang member.
Sheriff Ezell Brown said the new effort ties into his commitment during his 2008 campaign to wage a war against the "big three" issues in the community: drugs, sex and violence.
"These three issues have plagued our community for some time and contribute to many of the crime statistics related to gang activity," Brown said in a press release. "I know if we are to make a difference, we must combine old-fashioned police work with 21st century technology and community involvement."
Morrison said citizens should still call 911 for any emergencies or when reporting a crime in progress.
For more information about the gang tip line, contact Gaddy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TipSubmit is also used by the Covington Police Department.