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New tipster tool: text messages

September 18, 2008|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton on Wednesday unveiled a new system allowing people to provide anonymous crime tips to police through text messages and the department's website.

Bratton said he hoped the new technology, which protects the sender's identity, would generate more crime tips to the LAPD from the public.

"Far too often, victims and witnesses are too afraid to come forward out of fear of retaliation. Today, we're changing that," said L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who appeared at a news conference with Bratton.

Villaraigosa demonstrated the new text message system, sending an anonymous message from a cellphone saying he had witnessed a robbery and that the suspect had entered a grocery store at 8th Street and Broadway. After sending the message, the mayor received a reply assigning him an alias, which he could use to contact police and provide additional information.

Messages from tipsters are delivered to the Los Angeles Police Department's Regional Crime Center, the agency's information hub for daily operations through which tips are relayed to detectives and patrol officers in the field. The system also allows officers to communicate with the anonymous sender via text messages, according to LAPD Capt. Joel Justice.

Justice said the text message system was already used by police in New York, Boston and San Diego.

Tipsters send text messages to 274637 -- which spells the word CRIMES -- then type LAPD. The message is routed through a national system to Los Angeles police. Tipsters will also be able to convey information on www.lapdonline.org by clicking on the WebTips icon.

At the news conference, law enforcement officials said they hoped the public would use the system to assist police in cracking high-profile crimes, such as the Aug. 2 slaying of L.A. County sheriff's Deputy Juan Escalante, who was attacked outside his Cypress Park home, and the string of 11 slayings in South Los Angeles dating back to 1985, which police say were committed by a serial killer.

"We need more clues than we have now," said LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, who is overseeing the serial killer investigation. "We will solve this crime, but we would rather solve it sooner rather than later."

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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