tip411 interviewed Chief Paul Schnell of the Maplewood Police Department in Maplewood, Minnesota.
Q: Tell us about Maplewood and your department (how many residents, how many sworn, etc.).
A: Maplewood is a community of 40,000 people. It’s a first-ring suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota and is home to the world headquarters of 3M Corporation.
We are a full-service law enforcement agency with 53 sworn officers and our department is in a unique position because of the higher growth in urban type crime we are witnessing – gang related crime, homicides, assaults – but also our neighborhoods where there are quality of life issues – parking, disorderly people in parks, etc.
Q: How is the tip411 system used in your community?
A: We’ve used tip411 for about 2 years now and it’s really been an important tool for our department.
We have the tips app for smartphones, the text a tip line, and have the information on our Facebook page and website.
We’ve had five homicides in the last year, and in each of those cases, and every major crime in our community, we’ve used tip411 in a significant way. These crimes create high levels of fear in the community, so tip411 is a great way allow people to communicate with us.
Q: How is tip411 administered in your department (responsibilities, protocols, etc.)?
A: We have a county-based dispatch center, so dispatchers can’t be used to manage tips around the clock as they are busy responding to calls. Instead, inside our department we have a group of five administrative and investigative staff that can check and respond to tips we receive through the tip411 dashboard that has gotten better over time at helping us manage tips.
Knowing that we can’t monitor and respond to tips 24/7, we’ve publicized over and over that this is system is not monitored 24 hours a day and is not a replacement for emergency types of messages.
Q: What have you done to brand and promote the tip411 system in Maplewood?
A: Several things have been successful for us in terms of promotion. As I said, we post information to Facebook, Twitter, and every crime release we send out when we’re looking for the public’s help to solve crimes.
But we’ve also thought of creative ways like teaming up with the city’s public works department around pothole reporting. We put out a release asking community members to use tip411 to text us locations of potholes, and to pictures if they wanted. We received many reports and forwarded them directly to public works.
Of course this isn’t typically what a police department would focus on, but we view potholes and other types of non-crime reports as quality of life stuff that is important to people. And, for us, getting people to use tip411 to report potholes has been a mechanism for us to get people to use the system and become comfortable if/when they need to report more sensitive or crime-related information.
We’re also beginning to roll a program around human trafficking. Domestic trafficking and sexual exploitation of young people is an important issue and we’ve worked with tip411 to have an additional keyword (“SAFE”) to use in partnership with a domestic violence shelter that provides resources for victims. When people text tips using this keyword, program staff at a 24 hour domestic violence hotline and they manage and respond to those tips.
We are encouraging young people and people who may know about people who are being exploited to send information so we can try to make contact.
Because tip411 is not just a passive system, but one that allows us to actually engage in conversations with people, its been helpful for people to gauge whether or not they can trust us or a program.
Q: Any notable tips/arrests credited to tip411 that come to mind?
A: We had a homicide this past July and the suspect took off and left the area. We had no idea where he went but we published information about the crime with our tip411 information on Facebook, Twitter, our website, and in press releases to local media. Low and behold we got an anonymous text tip that the suspect was in a city, first in Wisconsin, and then in Illinois.
Our investigators used tip411 to engage in a conversation with the tipster – it was trust building. The tipster needed to know we weren’t going to be reckless with information and expose them.
After several days of back and forth, the tipster provided information to help us identify the location of the suspect who was then apprehended.
tip411 led us to that person through an engaged tipster based on the communications ability the system offers and that suspect is now pending trial for murder.
Q: So, why tip411?
A: For us, it’s a good value – It’s not super expensive, it’s simple to use, and simple to implement. It provides a good backend for us to manage and monitor so you not only see the tips but also who they were assigned to, if they are active, etc.
Q: Anything you would tell other agencies considering tip411?
A: I don’t believe there’s ever been a time in recent history where its as important as it is right now for law enforcement to lean in and provide every mechanism for people to communicate and engage with us.
This is especially true for people who may not trust us as much.
tip411 helps a conversation to develop and build that trust that’s necessary.
For the dollars, the effort, the functionality, and the outcome…it’s money well spent.