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Text messages tip off Sanford police about crime

Crime-fighting has gone high-tech and mobile in Sanford: The city is the first in North Carolina to let residents send their crime tips as anonymous text messages.

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SANFORD, N.C. — Crime-fighting has gone high-tech and mobile in Sanford as residents anonymously tip off police via text messages.

"Text messaging is new, and everybody's using it," Sanford Police Maj. Kevin Gray said. "We're just looking for any way to get information to solve crimes."

Sanford's text-messaging system for crime tips is the first in North Carolina, department officials said. It supplements a 25-year-old phone system that was getting fewer and fewer calls, Gray said.

The tips are also anonymous; police officers never see the tipsters' name or phone number. However, officers can text back, asking for more information.

"It may be a drug deal, could be any kind of activity," City Manager Hal Hegwer said.

Tipsters send a message beginning with 919SPD to Tip411. The message first goes to Minneapolis-based CitizenObserver, which Sanford pays about $2,000 a year to strip text messages of identifying information.

About two minutes after the text is first sent, the message pops up on a computer screen in the Sanford Police Department.

Hegwer, who came up with the idea, said he thinks texting crime tips will catch on with young people – hopefully generating more leads for police.

"The fact that you can communicate without even hearing the voice, I think that will catch on, because (among) younger generations, there's millions of folks using this kind of technology daily," Hegwer said.


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