Borough Police Launch Info Sharing Site
By VICKI ROCK
Somerset Daily American
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 10:00 PM EDT
An anonymous tip was submitted to the Somerset Borough Police through its new web site.
A short, dark-haired man enters the rear of the borough building each morning around 6 a.m. and a light then appears in an office, the tipster reported. Anonymous tips go directly to police Chief Randy Cox who assigns it to an officer.
Of course that dark-haired man is borough Manager Benedict G. Vinzani Jr. and the anonymous tip was posted as a joke for the press conference on Tuesday announcing the new way the public can provide information to the police and for the public and press to read media releases. Vinzani vows he will get revenge.
All joking aside, the public may now submit anonymous tips through the same website, where people and the news media will be able to read police activity reports. The site is www.somersetborough.com/police and is already operational.
Cox explained how the police report system works. When an officer returns to the police station after investigating an accident or other incident, he will fill out an online form that is on the department’s internal web page. That is then sent to the chief for review. After he makes any necessary changes, he approves it to be posted on the public website. The media and the public can go to the website and click on information release. He will post any new releases every morning.
“This is making my job and your job easier and granting access to the public,” Cox said. “They don’t have to question why something isn’t in the newspaper.”
The officer can mark something as a non-release, but the final decision is the chief’s. Some items — such as the names of juveniles — will still be withheld from the public. If something happens that deserves more information, or a quicker release of information, Cox will still write a longer release and fax it to the media.
“That is for events that may generate more interest and should be given in more depth,” he said.
If there is an immediate public safety issue — such as an accident involving hazardous materials — the police will telephone the news media. Somerset County officials would also be involved in that type of incident.
“This will save fax paper and money for the toll charges for faxes,” Cox said. “It is more efficient, will be more accurate and will increase the access for the public. It will be easier for me to jump on five days a week. I’ve seen this process in different places, but it was cumbersome. This is easy.”
The anonymous tip form doesn’t request the tipster’s name, phone or e-mail. Craig Smith, director of information technology for Somerset Borough, said the form requires people to type in the security code shown because it prevents “robots” from sending out spam. A human has to reproduce the code.
Cox said the police department is fortunate that the borough provides them with the services of Smith and his assistant Kim Smith. The borough’s website has won first place in a competition held by the Pennsylvania Association of Boroughs for the past three years and second place for two years before that.
“This is a fine example of how our department is continuing to improve its services to our citizens,” Vinzani said.
This is another modern tool that the police and information technology departments have come up with the keep the community advised about what is going on, said Fred Rosemeyer, council vice president and chairman of the public safety committee.
“This is normally information that the people would not have, but at times, it is an issue of public safety,” he said. “In turn, the public can give the police information about their concerns, including possible drug activity.”
Somerset residents can offer police tips online
By Cody Francis
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Somerset residents will be able to keep tabs on -- and help -- the borough's police department withoutmaking a trip to the station.
Police announced Tuesday a feature on the department's website that will enable the public to access police reports and file anonymous tips with the department.
Chief Randy Cox said officers will fill out a form on the website's intranet, or private computer network, that will provide the date, time, location and nature of an incident, as well as a brief description. The officer will then save the form, which Cox will edit and publish on the website.
Cox said this paperless alternative to providing information to the public will save the department money and make it easier for officers and those who want to access the information.
"If you want to know on a daily basis what police are doing, you don't have to just sit and wonder," Cox said. "In addition to making my job easier and (the media's) job easier, it grants easy access to the public."
Along with the everyday crime reports, unusual incidents may be found on the website, as well.
"A family member was gathering items and property to help prepare an estate and found a hand grenade in a drawer of electrical property," a Monday morning report said.
The "WWII pineapple-type" grenade was removed by a state police bomb technician. The grenade, however, was rendered non-explosive, according to the report.
In addition to the online releases, an "anonymous tip" feature has been added to the website. Those filling out the form will be asked to provide as much information as possible about the crime or suspicious activity, but will not be asked for their name, phone number or e-mail address.
"A lot of times, members of the public may want to pass along something but are afraid to be identified," Cox said. He said that he hopes this feature will make those who want to give the department a tip feel more comfortable doing so.
After a tip is filed on the website, Cox said it will go directly to his e-mail and it will be passed on to the appropriate person to follow up.
Cox said the features are something department members has been talking about for years.
"Our (information technology) department is constantly making improvements and updates," he said. "This all just seemed pretty easy and will allow us to streamline the process."
Fred Rosemeyer, president of the borough public safety committee, said Somerset's police department is always forward-thinking.
"The average person would not have these reports made available, " Rosemeyer said. "It's another really modern way Randy came up with to keep the public informed."
Releases and the anonymous tip form can be accessed through the department's website somersetborough.com/police, under the "public resources" tab at the top of the page.