Phoenix Police Department goes digital with online crime reporting

A new online system for reporting non-emergency crimes such as theft and criminal damage will increase police efficiency while encouraging more reports. The system may pave the way for a similar practice by the ASU Police Department. (Cydney McFarland/DD)
By Domenico Nicosia and Maxfield Barker

The Phoenix Police Department launched an innovative online-reporting service Monday that will save roughly $1 million per year as part of an effort to increase efficiency and cut costs.

The service covers crimes including bicycle theft, fraud and criminal damage, placing monetary restrictions on the crime where appropriate, said Kim Humphrey, Commander of the Communications Bureau.

Although they are not emergencies, these types of crimes must be reported for insurance purposes and take up time, resources and staff.

The crimes formerly were the responsibility of a call-back unit that cost over $1 million dollars per year to staff, operate and manage. The department began phasing out the unit two years ago and replacing it with the online service. It expects to eliminate the unit by June 30, the end of this fiscal year, Humphrey said.

“It is a logical, cost-saving step,” said Sgt. Trent Crump of the Phoenix Police Department. “Any time you come up with more for less, it is a benefit to the department.”

The new system cost $70,000 for the initial installment and will cost $25,000 per year in upkeep and maintenance.

“The big advantage to this is that it is 24/7, 365,” Humphrey said.

If successful, the product could lead the way to a similar service for the ASU Police Department, said Stewart Adams, Crime Prevention Program Director for the ASU police.

But Adams foresees some potential problems with the program, despite its convenience for victims and witnesses of crimes.

“It’ll make it easier to make false reports,” he said.

For example, someone could file a phony report in attempt to defraud an insurance company or an individual could file a bogus sexual assault case to get back at an ex, he said. Both cases have been seen at the university through traditional crime reporting procedures.

But the program could better facilitate more reports. Arielle Hurst, a journalism junior, had her bike stolen on the Downtown campus the first day after winter break during her freshman year.

Hurst didn’t report the crime after hearing others say the likelihood of the police doing anything was slim.

“I know it’s not a big deal but at the same time, I want my bike back,” she said.

Hurst said she would have been more willing to report the crime if the online program existed then, but she sees problems as well.

It may be difficult for the police to gauge details and reactions online as opposed to over the phone or in person, she said.

The service stemmed from the city of Phoenix Innovations and Efficiency Task Force as a way to save money. The project was first brought up four years ago, was budgeted last year and is now fully operational, Humphrey said.

This is both convenient for the department and the public.

“We don’t have to tie up an officer,” Crump said. “A lot of times with non-priority crimes, we are having them wait several hours for service.”

The initial form gauges whether this type of reporting system is appropriate. If any option response suggests a more serious crime, a pop-up box appears, urging the user to either dial 911 or contact Crime Stop to report the crime appropriately.

The online service makes it more difficult for people to file false reports, as it has fraud protection build in. The program keeps track of URLs, patterns and names within the database.

“It is harder to fool this than it is to fool people on the phone,” Humphrey said.

Crump said the new service reflects advancements in technology and widespread use of the Internet.

“It will be there for us as long as the technology allows it,” he said.

The department is working on expanding the service to include multiple languages and expand the types of crimes it can file.

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