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Police employ Twitter, texts to help fight crime: Chicago at the Tipping Point

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The Chicago Police Department is increasing its use of social media and text messaging as tools for the public in its battle against crime in the city, bringing the CAPS program into the digital age.

Mayor Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy announced a pilot program Monday, twenty years after the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy was established.

McCarthy said the program allows police to use Twitter to share information on beat meetings with residents, to "continue to build strong cooperation" between police and the community. Residents will also be able to watch and participate in community beat meetings online.

"They can submit questions virtually from the comfort of their own home and their computer," McCarthy said.

The site will also be used for getting the word out on business and community alerts in real time, along with missing person reports.

"This is part of the mayor's and mine shared vision" for improving communication between residents and police," McCarthy said.

The pilot program will only involve three police districts at first, but there are plans of expanding it to all districts very soon. The pilot areas include District 7, District 11 and District 18, which house Englewood, Harrison and the Gold Coast.

McCarthy also announced a series of changes to the department's community policing program on Monday. The new efforts let people anonymously send crime tips, videos and photos to the 911 system directly from the scene, via text message.

Emergency dispatchers will send those anonymous photos and videos to laptops inside police patrol cars.

"This will help our responding officers to understand and actually have eyes on the ground to the incidents they are responding to," McCarthy said.

"If we have a picture of a criminal committing a crime and we're approaching the scene, we might catch them two blocks away," he added.

"If I see something in my neighborhood, I would tweet right where I'm walking or riding the bus," Englewood resident Keneenin Milton says.

Milton says tweeting or texting is a more discreet way to tip off police than picking up the phone, but Clara Kirk warns most living in high crime areas won't participate.

"Maybe zero…or five.. not many. Probably older people will do it," Kirk says.

Clara Kirk has run not-for-profit company, West Englewood United Organization, which has been helping homeless and battered women and children for 25 years. She says retaliation is a real fear and mistrust of police is too widespread.

Superintendent McCarthy says that is why the department is revitalizing community policing and getting beat cops on the same streets every day to build relationships.

Authorities promise to keep all tips anonymous.

The city is also about to unveil a re-designed, more user friendly Chicago Police web site.

Monday's changes come after a particularly violent holiday weekend. At least 10 people died and about five dozen others were wounded in a series of shootings since Wednesday night.

To report a crime, text a tip to Chicago police by texting CRIMES (2-7-4-6-3-7) and start the message with "CPD" or tweet to the districts: @ChicagoCAPS07, @ChicagoCAPS11, and @ChicagoCAPS18.

The Associated Press and Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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