In Antioch, 911 is no longer the only number for emergencies. At least, if you want to contact police about a crime via text message.
Antioch is Contra Costa's first city and one of the first in the Bay Area to use a service that takes text messages from cellphones and processes that information to pursue crime leads.
By texting 274637 (CRIMES), and then putting "Antioch" and the tip in the body of the message, police can use the information to find evidence and solve cases, police Chief Allan Cantando said.
"Say there's a shooting. People can text and say, 'I saw this homicide and the guy buried the gun in the back corner of the yard,' or 'The suspect had this type of piercing,'" he said. "It's simple to use and gets the community more engaged. Plus, it gives us a way to find that evidence and make arrests."
The TipSoft technology sends the text to a Canadian server, which relays a different identification tag back to Antioch police with the information, said William Kilmer, CEO of Public Engines, the company that created the program. Texters remain anonymous, unless they choose to give their name and address in the body of the text, Cantando said.
Both Antioch council members who work in law enforcement lauded the new technology this week.
"It's an innovative way to engage the community," Councilman Brian Kalinowski said.
Adds Mayor Pro Tem Wade Harper: "It's awesome. Everyone is on their smartphones now. It's a good way to bring policing up to today's technology. Hopefully, it will help us solve more crime."
Police have found that some people, particularly those who are witnesses to incidents in high-crime areas, fear retaliation or being labeled as "snitches," Cantando said. The system, which is used by about 850 law enforcement agencies in the United States, is "ironclad" in keeping identities of texters private, Kilmer said.
The service also allows residents to receive text or email alerts from police about neighborhood crime with real-time data, and it allows police access to information for data analysis purposes so the department can target its enforcement, Cantando said.
The new technology will help the department overcome some of its staffing shortcomings, Cantando said. Antioch's police force, which is authorized for 126 sworn officer positions, employs 91 officers. It also does not have any nonsworn community service officers, which handle booking and other internal issues.
Law enforcement staffing has been cut back the past three years through attrition and a hiring freeze, forcing specialty divisions such as gang and traffic units to be disbanded and all officers assigned to patrol.
Antioch paid near $19,000 for a three-year subscription for the service with funds it receives from asset forfeitures.
Other Bay Area agencies that use TipSoft include the Fremont Police Department, and the Bay Area and Silicon Valley crime stoppers programs. San Leandro police launched a free iPhone application this week that allows residents to anonymously communicate with law enforcement.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.
To contact Antioch police about a crime via text message, text "CRIMES" or 274637, enter in Antioch and type in the incident.