A handful of Minnesota police agencies are offering crime victims the option of reporting minor offenses online to save time for both victims and police.

Fridley started using online reporting last fall, and in Wright County, Buffalo expects to roll out its system by spring, said Buffalo Chief Mitch Weinzetl. Minneapolis has allowed online reporting for four years now.

"We live in an electronic media world," Weinzetl said. "People want access to these services as much as possible, and on their schedule. We need to use and leverage technology wherever we can to improve our efficiency."

Although some note the lack of human contact, supporters say the online option offers convenience for people reporting minor thefts, property damage or traffic cases while allowing police to focus on more serious cases. And online crime reports flow directly into electronic records systems, with no data entry by officers required.

"It's a win-win," said Minneapolis police Sgt. Jesse Garcia. "A report is filed so we can track where things are happening, and it frees up police from going to take a report on site."

While Minneapolis has been offering the service since 2006, Fridley is apparently the first metro-area suburb to try it, said leaders at the state chiefs and sheriffs associations. Mankato and Duluth police also offer computerized crime reporting.

Fridley Police Chief Don Abbott said his department expects to save the equivalent of a police officer position by letting residents report minor crimes that don't need an immediate response. There were 1,952 low-level incidents last year in Fridley. An officer handles about 600 calls a year, he said.

"It's absolutely worth the expense," Abbott said, and it will help police offset the loss of two positions cut in the past year because of budget constraints.

The service, developed by Coplogic, of San Ramon, Calif., cost $17,325 to put in place, plus an annual fee of $3,850, said Fridley Capt. Bob Rewitzer. With minimal publicity, about 60 people already have filed online reports, about half of them involving thefts, Rewitzer said.

The system offers flexibility for minor-crime victims, Rewitzer said. "They don't have to wait for an officer to come and take a report. If their car was broken into, they can go to work and then log in to a computer and report at their convenience."

How it works

When a resident logs into the Fridley police website, a series of questions pops up to ensure that the incident is minor enough to file online.

People are advised to call 911 for burglaries, if a crime is in progress, if anyone was hurt or threatened, if weapons were involved, or if the person reporting the crime has information about a possible suspect.

They also are told to call 911 if they would just rather talk to an officer. Police check online reports the next day, Rewitzer said.

As long as officers read the reports, "I really can't see a downside," said Harlan Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. "The same information gets there, and officers can investigate the complaints as they wish."

St. Paul police have discussed offering online reporting, but they lack the funds to integrate it into their crime recordkeeping system, said spokesman Sgt. Paul Schnell. He said the city allows victims of minor crimes to report incidents over the phone to an officer, who occasionally discovers a more serious situation requiring police response. An officer might also be able to calm a caller who is upset, Schnell said. "It's a human connection and contact," he said.

Would online reporting make it easier for people to submit false theft reports to support fraudulent insurance claims? That question was asked of Shawn Wensel, president of Minnesota Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers.

After checking a few police online reporting websites, Wensel replied by e-mail: "I don't think it would make it easier for one to commit insurance fraud. The claims adjuster will still contact the person who files a claim and complete an investigation."

If an online report looks odd or contains high-value lost property, police can always investigate, said Jeff Gottstein, a Woodbury officer and owner of Law Enforcement Technology Group. His company provides electronic police record service and an online reporting system that Buffalo will use.

Gottstein said his system costs up to $10,000, depending on how much programing is needed.

Minneapolis developed its own system at a cost of about $100,000, said Don Stickney, director of the city's 311 information center. Stickney said the number of online crime reports has increased since 2006 to 3,592 last year.

"It's more efficient for the city and the customer," he said.

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658