Three years ago, Tustin Police Officer Bill Yackle decided that local law enforcement had to reach out to a new kind of neighborhood: the online one.
"Our mission statement rests on community-oriented policing," Yackle said. "People shouldn't be afraid or too intimidated to talk to us. I figured there had to be a way for people to get to know who we are outside of the police car."
So he and records clerk Gail Mors set up a simple Web site, a common thing among the enforcement community. Yet Tustin's once-tiny site, at http://www.tustinpd.org, has blossomed into a hot spot for local gossip and crime tips.
The main draw is the "Ask Sgt. Mike" section, a bulletin board where Net users can ask questions and have an officer quickly respond. The queries, which can be posted anonymously, range from complaints about noisy neighbors to arguments over arrest warrants.
Sgt. Mike Pettifer checks the site every day and responds as quickly as possible. The forum gets nearly 500 questions a month from the public. Though the site hasn't yielded clues to unsolved mysteries, the department hopes its Web presence will help build a closer bond of trust between the public and the police.
"Traffic is a really big concern," said Yackle, who notes that all three officers, who each spend about 20 hours a week on the site, work on the online project during their off-hours.
"Everyone wants to know how they can get out of a speeding ticket," Yackle said. "It's simple: Slow down."
P.J. Huffstutter covers high technology for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-7830 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.