Text messaging as a mobile marketing tool is standard practice across most industries, but the public sector is also harnessing the power of SMS. Healthcare, emergency services, schools - all are benefitting from the possibilities opened up by the speed, affordability and convenience of mass texting.
One of the most significant applications of text messaging is in the fight against crime. Earlier this year, the four major wireless carriers began offering free text-to-911 services. Police departments across the country are realizing what mobile marketing campaign managers have long understood: there’s no greater guarantee of effective communication than SMS. Victims of crime can surreptitiously send text messages in dangerous situations where making a phone call may be impossible, and law enforcers can use SMS to streamline their processes and thus become more effective. Let’s take a look at some of the most innovative uses of SMS messaging in the fight against crime.
A number of local police departments have set up shortcodes allowing members of the public to anonymously tip the police about a crime they have witnessed. In Bakersfield, CA, citizens have been providing law enforcers with valuable tips for some years; Kern County runs a similar program. In both cases, police stress that these channels are not intended for emergency situations requiring immediate attention, but for anonymous tip offs from people who may not otherwise feel comfortable reporting crime.
In Tennessee, local authorities are encouraging students to report crimes anonymously. When the scheme was rolled out in 2009, Sgt. Charles Warner from the Franklin Police Department said that young people “don’t want to be labeled as ‘snitches’... they don’t want to be retaliated against and they’re fearful of that.” But many young people are happy to report, say, a student who brings a gun to school, or is dealing drugs on campus. The first police department in the state to launch a text message tip program, other precincts soon followed suit, and similar programs are now widespread all over the United States.
Based in Washington, D.C., the Polaris Project runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which accepts calls and texts 24/7. A Washington Post story recounted the plight of one 18-year-old sex-trade worker who alerted the authorities via text message from her pimp’s phone. Police arrested the man shortly after. An app called Redlight Traffic goes further still, with an educational component designed to teach citizens how to identify tell-tale signs of human trafficking and give them a way to combat it.
Law enforcers believe such programs can improve public understanding of potentially criminal situations, even when no actual crime has been witnessed. Citizens can report suspicious behaviour to the app, upload photos and GPS locations, and provide information on vehicle registrations and personal descriptions. Officers can review individual reports and map suspicious activities to improve their chances of being there when a crime is committed. It’s an ideal solution for members of the public who are unsure whether to call 911, but believe they have witnessed potential wrongdoing.
It’s not just serious offences like trafficking and gun crime that are being tackled by SMS messaging. Minor misdeeds which clog up law enforcement processes can be prevented by improved communication between the police and the public. In Moscow, drivers can sign up to receive a text alert 20 minutes before their car is about to be towed. When the program launched in June, officials predicted monthly savings of up to $2.6 million.