The Taunton Police Department has a new way of communicating with residents — a phone app.
Lt. Eric Nichols said the goal of the app is to create another method by which the department can receive tips from residents, as well as communicate information like weather and traffic alerts.
“It’s a better way for us to partner with our community to share information both ways,” he said.
The app, available on both Android and iOS, allows residents to submit anonymous tips. They simply enter a title, a location — which your phone can determine through its GPS — and a description of the issue. You can also add a photo or video. The app then allows you to keep track of what tips you’ve sent.
Nichols said the app is not monitored at all times but is regularly checked. So it is not suitable for emergencies, but is great for general complaints. The app still prompts residents to call 911 in an emergency.
The app also allows the department to distribute information quickly and easily through push notifications. Nichols said the department will use it to send weather and traffic alerts, as well as active crime alerts if they are, for instance, looking for a specific vehicle throughout the city.
The app was Police Chief Edward Walsh’s idea, Nichols said.
“One of the complaints we’ve had in the past is that with the advent of social media it’s become very popular, so we try to get information out via social media,” he said. “However, not everybody in our community has social media and some choose not to. So it was a question of ‘How do we get the information out to everybody across the board?’”
At the last International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Convention, Nichols said, the department sought out app developers and selected one called tip411 to make an app for them. The developer specializes in making apps for law enforcement and has made apps for other departments in Massachusetts such as the Dartmouth Police Department, he said.
It took about two months to design the app and train officers on how to use it. Then the department rolled it out in early August, Nichols said.
The department has had anonymous tip lines and texting services for about a decade, but Nichols said that might not be how younger people, especially teenagers, would opt to communicate with police.
“I have a 17- and 19-year-old, and they’re less likely to call the police via phone than they are to have an app that could send a message,” he said. “It’s the way they live and the way they communicate. So we have to be in tune with all ages of our community.”
Nichols said innovation is something Walsh has emphasized with his officers.
“Chief Walsh is really, really big on our department being innovative. He gives a lot of us the ability to go out and find new things that make our department better,” he said. “He’s very, very happy about this new app. He thinks that it will make us more transparent.”
Walsh was also named chair of the mid-sized department division of the IACP back in April. Nichols said departments around the country look to him for leadership, especially when it comes to new tools for law enforcement like apps.