Earlier this month, Captain Mike Parker of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spearheaded two networking sessions to highlight use of instant messaging for policing to many Southern California law enforcement agencies.  Representatives from 63 agencies were in attendance.  Captain Parker was joined by law enforcement partners; Commander Laura Farinella, Long Beach PD, Lieutenant John Romero, Los Angeles PD, and Sergeant Tom Le Veque, Arcadia PD, who all shared real-time examples, demonstrating the importance of instant messaging platforms for emergency communication in law enforcement.  The two main platforms presented were Nixle and Alert LA County.  The conference sessions also detailed and encouraged use of the Los Angeles Regional Crime Stoppers program.

Nixle is a free Community Information Service that can deliver important and timely information to residents in your community and is offered to local governments nationwide.  Nixle is operated in conjunction with NLETS, the secure, international public safety information network.  Nixle is the only system affiliated with NLETS and is therefore able to offer secure and authenticated messaging.  There are other excellent emergency notification systems, such as CodeRED, available and in use in some Southern California agencies.

The information distributed through Nixle is controlled by your personnel.  Notifications or alerts of an emergent nature, community information, traffic or road closures, crime information, are just some of the examples of what can be communicated to the residents who subscribe to Nixle.  The information is disseminated via email or by text message to the resident’s cellular phone.  The information can be sent to the entire user group or a specified target area based on locations related to the information.  For example, a crime bulletin may be sent to a particular neighborhood or a specified radius, such as within a ¼ mile of the target address or area.  This Nixle service is known as Tier 1 and is free to all agencies and subscribers.

Representatives from Nixle, including President and founder Craig Mitnick, were also on hand at each session to further discuss Nixle with any interested agency.  Captain Parker offered a demonstration of Nixle’s “Tier 2” functionality and explained the benefits of this contracted component.  Tier 2 offers subscribing agencies use of text (SMS) notifications/communication to personnel as well as “keyword” notification to the public.  LAPD successfully used this component for internal communication to personnel during May Day demonstrations earlier this year in Los Angeles.  LASD also utilized the “keyword” notification during the Crown Fire (July 2010).  This gave the community the ability to subscribe solely to alert information pertaining to the fire from LASD and LA County Fire.  “Keyword” notifications are activated by anyone with a text capable cellular phone sending the designated keyword to the number “888777”.  Please note that Tier 2 is a paid and contracted feature unlike the free Tier 1 service.

Alert LA County was launched in 2009 as the emergency mass notification system for Los Angeles County.  The system is available for use by all LA County agencies and can deliver reverse emergency calls to every landline phone in the County.  Alert LA County can also deliver the emergency message to cellular phones or email accounts registered by users.  Every landline phone number has been loaded into the system without the need to register by residents.  The Sheriff’s Communication Center receives the request for an emergency notification from a particular agency and places the message in a recorded voice and text format.  The message is then delivered to phones in a specified geographic region.  Calls will be repeated should the phone not be answered.  Alert LA County negates the need for individual agencies within the County to purchase costly, individual reverse emergency notification systems.

The Los Angeles Regional Crime Stoppers program is on track to become the largest Crime Stoppers program in the nation.  Crime Stoppers is recognized internationally and offers the ability to deliver tip information anonymously via the phone, text, or web.  Crime Stoppers programs are organized as a not for profit organization, funded by private donations and annual fund raising events. NO TAX DOLLARS are involved. The reward money paid out by the program is from the fund raising and donations from concerned citizens and businesses.  Tipsters are eligible to receive up to $1,000 based on the severity of the crime involved, but, despite this, many callers choose not to collect their rewards.  When tips are received, the Los Angeles Regional Crime Stoppers program prides itself in delivering relevant tip information to the appropriate jurisdiction in a very timely manner.

Many agencies are now placing links directly to Crime Stoppers on their websites.  Tools are also available that allow agencies with a Facebook page to place a “Submit a Tip” button directly on their Facebook page.  The “Submit a Tip” button then links the tipster directly to Crime Stoppers.  This button can be modified and linked to any Crime Stoppers program based on your location.  Using tools like this give your community immediate, recognizable, and ready access to programs such as Crime Stoppers.

Each agency represented by the presenters takes advantage of and use these platforms.  Instant messaging in emergency situations allows our community members the opportunity to become and stay informed.  None of these tools or services is meant to be the one and only solution for law enforcement.  However, smart use and using them to compliment one another greatly enhance our service delivery and ability to actively engage our communities.  Most all jurisdictions are currently faced with tight budgets and Southern California is no different.  These informative networking sessions offered a great opportunity to explore no cost tools and applications.  As Captain Parker put it, “Today is free day.”  Thanks to all who participated!