Lack of witness cooperation has been a frustration for Benton Harbor Public Safety Director Dan McGinnis throughout his law enforcement career.
He hopes that use of a new, customized, crime-fighting smartphone app will help residents get involved. The tip411 system, which will be available to Benton Harbor residents within four weeks, is 100 percent anonymous, McGinnis said Friday.
McGinnis stresses that it is not intended to replace 911. He said residents in an emergency situation should continue to call 911. But someone witnessing a minor incident or having delayed information about a major incident should use the tip411 app. Residents in Benton Harbor without a smartphone will be able to text an anonymous tip to police via a cell phone by texting keyword BHPD to 847411 (tip411).
“This is not to replace 911,” McGinnis said. “But sometimes, if people want to be anonymous, they get frustrated if they call 911 to report something and a dispatcher starts asking a battery of questions when the person just wants to have the police come. People get frustrated and hang up.”
The app will allow residents to find information, view alerts, report crimes as they happen, and submit anonymous tips from their smartphone. The technology removes all identifying information before police see the tips, and there is no way to identify the sender.
“Our mission is to partner with the community to solve problems and improve public safety in a manner that is fair, impartial, transparent and consistent,” McGinnis said. “We believe our new tip411 app will help engage residents to partner with us and help fight crime.”
McGinnis said he does not know all the reasons people are uncooperative or unwilling to report crimes or provide witness testimony. He said a common reason is fear of retaliation. Although in reality, he said, that typically does not happen.
“Or sometimes they’re just apathetic. We have people who are victims and they will not name the perpetrator. It’s a cultural thing,” he said.
Developed by tip411, the app will improve the public’s access to agency alerts, social media channels and important information, tip411 President Terry Halsch stated in a news release.
“We’ve listened to feedback from partners like Benton Harbor and have built a more advanced and innovative product to help departments better engage their communities,” he said.
McGinnis said as soon as the app is available for residents to download, it will be announced through traditional media and social media.