NORRISTOWN >> Montgomery County residents who want to anonymously report a crime tip now have an app for that.
Recognizing the proliferation of smartphones in society and their importance in citizens’ daily lives, county officials on Monday unveiled a crime tips app program dubbed “MontcoCrimeTips” that they say will make every citizen a partner in crime fighting.
“If you see somebody dealing drugs text it to us. If you hear something about a homicide, text it to us. If somebody thinks they’re hearing somebody in trouble, somebody being abused, text it to us,” District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said as officials gathered to launch the smartphone app that is available to download for free on iOS and Android platforms.
Montgomery County is the first county in Pennsylvania to launch such an app.
“People’s cellphones are never far from their fingertips and this app makes cellphones a powerful tool in fighting crime by allowing residents to anonymously share what they know and see, especially about drug dealing and homicides right in their own neighborhood or whenever they go about their daily business,” Steele said.
“It allows every-day citizens to make a difference in the lives of someone else. So if you see it, text it. If you hear it, text it,” said Steele, adding the app has the potential to be a game-changer for crime fighting.
Officials said they will be promoting the use of the app to citizens during “National Night Out” festivities in the county this week.
The free mobile app called STOPit is simple to use on any cellphone and allows users to text information, a photo or video and transmit it directly to the county’s 911 Emergency Communications Center. While the 911 dispatchers will be able to communicate directly with the tipsters in real time if additional information is required, officials stressed the tipster’s phone number remains anonymous.
“I want to emphasize this, it’s an anonymous tip line, it’s not captured or saved in any way,” Steele said.
Tips that require an immediate response will result in police or firefighters being dispatched. Non-urgent tips will be directed to the county’s on-call detective, who will review them and distribute them to the appropriate law enforcement agency for evaluation and potential investigation.
Dr. Val Arkoosh, county commissioners’ chairwoman, explained the county’s Department of Public Safety secured a federal Homeland Security grant that funds the county’s version of the STOPit app project at a cost of about $8,000 annually.
“This innovative app is a 21st-century version of that old-fashioned tip line, something I think that many of us grew up with and are very comfortable with,” Arkoosh said. “This app will provide a safe way for victims, bystanders and concerned citizens to help combat crimes and hazards in our county. This app is another example of how Montgomery County is using technology to help make the county a great place to live, work and visit.”
Plymouth Township Police Chief Joe Lawrence, who is also president of the county’s Police Chiefs Association, praised the development of the app technology.
“As police officers we cannot do our job without the input of the citizens and that’s why this is an important program,” Lawrence said.
To participate, residents must download the free STOPit app and then input the access code “MONTCOPA” in order to acquire the correct version of STOPit. Once the app is on the cellphone residents are ready to anonymously share tips about criminal activity.
Officials said the county is just the second jurisdiction in the country to utilize the STOPit app.
Somerset County, N.J., where STOPit Solutions is based, launched the crime reporting app in October 2017. Neil Hooper, chief operating officer of STOPit Soluntions, said more than 1,000 Somerset residents have downloaded the app and more than 200 crime tips have been submitted.
“As a matter of fact, they have 41 cases closed out of their over 200 crime tips sent in,” said Hooper, adding tips have been reported about major crimes, felony thefts, fugitives and narcotics crimes. “We look forward to similar successes here in Montgomery County.”
The crime tips app is a joint venture undertaken by the district attorney’s office and the Montgomery County Department of Public Safety.
Officials were joined at the news conference by Montgomery County Chief Detective Sam Gallen and Mike Vest, deputy director of the county Department of Public Safety.