When Police Chief George Gascon today announces
San Francisco cops will soon have the ability to engage in real-time text message conversations with people who have witnessed -- or are witnessing -- a crime, it will be more than a technologically uplifting moment. It also marks one of the few socially redeeming uses for text-messaging. The knock on the SFPD has long been
that its hardware and IT systems -- and data compilation -- are more antiquated than the machines on the original Star Trek
set. Adoption of this dirt cheap program helps in that regard. But it warrants mentioning that this concept was long ago utilized elsewhere; at Candlestick Park you can even text "badfan" to report the obnoxious drunk two rows over. And a Police Executive Research Forum paper
exploring the "Stop Snitching" phenomenon -- in which former San Francisco Chief Heather Fong was prominently quoted -- recommended text-a-tip programs just like this to effectively combat the community's aversion to working with police.
Still, better late than never. I visited the SFPD Web site seeking more
information on the text-a-tip program. I didn't find any (not even what
number to call for this program). But I did stumble into a bit of Web
nostalgia. As you can see here,
the SFPD page still employs a rotating star of the sort my
contemporaries and I would have been thrilled to program onto our Web
pages while listening to "Nevermind" and wasting time playing Duke Nukem.
More importantly, however, if there's a method for someone averse to text-messaging to type an anonymous tip for the cops on this page -- well, I'm not finding it. I can't say that this would be a surefire technique of harnessing information. But leaving anonymous feedback on Web pages is not a startling thing to do. At least here it could potentially be beneficial.
Still, I enjoyed the sentimental journey provided by the SFPD. I'd have enjoyed it less if I was attempting to surreptitiously report a crime.