Evanston Police Department promotes Text-a-Tip program

Marshall Cohen

The Evanston Police Department is promoting its Text-a-Tip program, a “unique tool” that spokesman Cmdr. Jay Parrott said could help reduce crime in the city.

The program, first launched in June, encourages residents to send crime tips to EPD via text messages. Tipsters remain completely anonymous – an independent third party handles all messages and relays the tips to the EPD communications department.

During the eight months since Text-a-Tip was launched, EPD has received about 50 tips via text message, Parrott said, and most tips are about fights or drug dealing.

“We put out a revitalization of the program to get people familiar with the program,” Parrott said. “There are a lot of other cities that use the same program throughout the country, and a lot of people utilize their smartphones all the time.”

Texted tips helped solve a homicide in Boston and prevent a school shooting in a Denver suburb, according to a 2009 msnbc.com article. The article said the Boston Police Department received more than 1,000 tips in two years and has been hailed as a success.

Furthermore, campus police at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles adopted the Text-a-Tip program in order to help students report incidents during rowdy football games.

Evanston’s texting program directly targets local youth and students attending Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave. Tipsters can text information to EPD or to the Safety Department at ETHS, Parrott said.

“It’s not just about sending us tips on crimes that happened but also information on crimes that are going to happen, whether it’s a fight after school or something like that,” he added.

When a resident sends in a tip, the information is received by a third party that assigns a random system-generated “alias” to the tipster. This ensures the resident’s anonymity, according to the city’s website.

EPD staff working in the communications department can respond to text messages. However, EPD never learns the identity of the tipster even though they can communicate back and forth, Parrott said.

“Texting is very popular, and it is something you can do without anybody knowing,” Parrott said.

This program is part of a larger strategy by the Evanston police force to reach out to residents through technology. EPD orchestrated a “virtual ride-along” last November by posting all emergency calls for a day on the city’s Twitter account.

Residents can anonymously provide information by sending a text to 274637 and starting the message with EPDTIP.

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