In Camden City, anonymous tips help break major cases, alert police to issues that require their attention, and bring violent criminals to justice.
“The fruits of that have made the city safer, and have made the community safer, and have improved the trust and the dialogue between the police and the community,” said Lt. Zsakhiem James, Community Commander for the Camden County Police Department.
Now the department is testing another mechanism by which to communicate with them: a free app called STOPit.
“We have Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Nextdoor, and now STOPit,” James said.
“We’ll go with anything and everything that enables us to communicate [with residents].”
The STOPit app is free to download (use the access code CAMDENNJ), and is available for both Apple and Android devices. Anyone can use it to report non-emergency concerns directly to the department. There’s an in-app chat for officers to have conversations with the user, and a file attachment function for sending photos or videos.
James also stressed that STOPit is not a substitute for 9-1-1 calls in an emergency situation, but might be useful for slower-developing circumstances like illegal dumping, drug trade, prostitution, or nuisance crimes.
It’s also useful for following up on investigations where the police are soliciting help from the community.
“We’re not asking anyone to put themselves in harm’s way to give us information,” James said.
“But if you happen to be in an area where you happen to see something, and you happen to say something, fine.”
Officers will filter through the tips they receive, and assign detectives to investigate as needed, James said. STOPit can generate case numbers for the department to manage internally, which, if they yield criminal investigations, would be managed throughout the regular department workflow.
“Any tip has to be corroborated before any police action is done,” James said.
“We take all of our tips very seriously.
“We’ll take notice if it’s been used to harass or annoy.”
For residents who believe “that there’s strength in anonymity,” James said STOPit could help overcome “that stigma of talking to police.
“We derive our power from the community,” James said. “And that makes a bigger difference. The community will give you the chance on small things, and build up to the larger things.”
So far, the only other law enforcement agency in New Jersey to use STOPit is the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office; if it finds success in Camden, other agencies might follow suit.