CLEARWATER — You have knowledge of a crime, but you're wary of reporting it because you fear retribution or being dragged into an investigation.
What do you do?
A new program rolled out this week by the Clearwater Police Department allows people to submit anonymous tips via cell phone text messages or the department's website.
"It could be 'I saw this guy, or this car, in my neighborhood and it seemed suspicious,' " said Lt. David Dalton.
The program is just one facet of the department's new crime analysis unit, which also was unveiled this week.
The unit uses a computer program to catalog and map information that is evaluated by crime analysts to help focus enforcement efforts.
Data from the department's computer-aided dispatch system, arrest affidavits and incident reports are entered into the system, which is updated hourly to give patrol officers up-to-date information about what is occurring in their coverage areas, said patrol division commander Maj. Mark Teunis.
"Waiting a week to address a crime doesn't solve anything," Teunis said. "You're too late then."
Officers will be better equipped to evaluate crime trends, areas of concern and patterns — such as the time of day a crime is most likely to occur in a certain area, Dalton said.
And that can lead to more effective enforcement strategies, including developing suspects, increasing patrols and running surveillance operations.
The unit's overall purpose is to support the department's "predictive policing strategy," which aims to use information garnered through patrol officers, police reports and citizen tips to stop crimes before they happen, Teunis said.
Officers can respond to texted tips to ask for more information. The sender's phone number will be assigned a random code to protect the person's identity.
Concerned residents also can upload photos to the new analysis unit on the department's website.
The new unit is Chief Tony Holloway's second major initiative since he took over as Clearwater's top cop in February.
In April, Holloway instituted a neighborhood policing program called "Park, Walk and Talk," which sends officers out on foot to connect with residents and learn more about neighborhood issues. It also gives residents who are generally leery of police an opportunity to report suspicious activity.
Within three weeks, that program resulted in the arrests of two men on drug possession charges after a resident reported suspicious activity at a nearby home.