A suburban drug task force is the latest Minnesota law enforcement agency to use texting and mobile apps to attract would-be tipsters.
Last week, the Southwest Metro Drug Task Force activated its “SWMTip” app, powered by St. Paul-based technology company tip411, for residents to submit anonymous tips and photos from their smartphones.
Phil Nawrocki, a Scott County Sheriff’s Office commander, said the first tip arrived within a day of launching the app. The task force joined more than 30 other Minnesota agencies using tip411 after noting how often it gathered information from mobile photos or text messages, Nawrocki said.
“Rather than have the individual go back home, sit down and try to find our e-mail address and contact info, they have a cellphone in their hand that can directly send confidential information to us,” Nawrocki said.
The Southwest Metro Drug Task Force covers Scott, Carver and McLeod counties as well as the cities of Excelsior, Greenwood, Shorewood and Tonka Bay.
Tip411’s apps keep tipsters anonymous by assigning them a six-character alias to be used when communicating with authorities, said tip411 President Terry Halsch. The company also has a “text-a-tip” system that is used by roughly 1,400 agencies around the country, he said.
To lighten the information-technology load on law enforcement agencies, the company offers its software on a subscription basis and manages the program’s data, Halsch said. Users can download the app for free.
“It’s pretty low maintenance for us,” Nawrocki said.
The company’s subscribers across the country range from the Minneapolis police to small departments in the remote Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
Federal agencies such as the U.S. Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration also use it.
Law enforcement agencies that use tip411’s text service or mobile apps often include information on how to access the tools in news alerts or on billboards. Halsch said a sheriff’s office in Illinois puts it on crime-scene tape. Some Minneapolis investigators include details on their business cards.
“Southwest Metro will be successful if they do ongoing promotion of this,” Halsch said.
Nawrocki said the task force targets felony-level drug trafficking, with meth, heroin and marijuana being the most prevalent. Halsch said the task force also will likely receive tips unrelated to narcotics. In those cases, it can share the details with nearby police departments such as those in Jordan and Shakopee that also use tip411.
“It’s just another tool and a resource that the public can use for an individual who may not know where to start or who to contact,” Nawrocki said.