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Crime watch online

Coeur d’Alene police Chief Wayne Longo talks  about at his office on  on April 14. Information on the website includes crime maps that can be sorted by date, crime type and location. (Kathy Plonka)
Coeur d’Alene police Chief Wayne Longo talks about at his office on on April 14. Information on the website includes crime maps that can be sorted by date, crime type and location. (Kathy Plonka)

Website keeps citizens informed

During the last decade, Sharon Alexander’s neighborhood has experienced a downward slide.

As unoccupied residences, out-of-town homeowners and unkempt rental lots appeared through the years, she found herself becoming an ever-vigilant, sharp-eyed neighbor. In that time, Alexander, Block Watch captain for her North Ninth Street area, has helped shut down three drug houses near her home, while cataloging pages of suspicious activity that she’s used to report crimes to authorities.

Now, with the click of a mouse, Alexander has a high-tech tool to aid in her pursuit of crime prevention. Through a partnership with the Coeur d’Alene Police Department and the online site, anyone with Internet access can also become an informed citizen.

Launched in early March for an initial cost of about $5,000 for the software, paid for through the Byrne/Jag grant that supports intelligence-led policing projects and will also cover the monthly user fee of less than $100, the online hub of local activity provides the police department with a user-friendly service for managing and sharing crime data with the public in near real-time. There are more than 700 law enforcement agencies across North America using the service – Coeur d’Alene is the first to use it in the region.

At the same time, community members can access their neighborhood crime information for free, viewing reports on everything from assaults to vehicle theft to registered sex offenders to burglaries.

“To see this happen, I think, is one of the greatest things the police have come across,” Alexander said, adding that she checks the site roughly three times a week. “To be able to see what’s going on without having to call the police is fantastic. It makes us more aware.”

“A lot of people want information and we’re putting as much out there as we can, economically and with cost in mind,” Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Wayne Longo said. “When you talk about transparency, there’s nothing that we do that should be secret, unless obviously there’s a criminal investigation.”

The partnership came about from meetings between neighborhood watch committees and the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, according to Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Christie Wood. Many committee members expressed an interest in learning if crime was occurring in their neighborhoods, through phone calls or some other direct source.

“What we hear out of Block Watch groups is, ‘Isn’t there some way for the police department to call me and tell me what’s happening in my neighborhood?’ ” Wood offered, adding though that phone calls would be a very time-consuming process. “is just an amazing program that does answer that need and that desire for that information. And it’s beneficial for us. … It empowers citizens, too, and is time-saving for us.”

Crime data from the police department is compiled and saved to a file on a daily basis. Then, the information, which is changed to identify the block rather than a specific address in order to protect the privacy of victims, is automatically transmitted to daily Monday through Friday. “Even though all this is public information, we wanted to continue to try to give victims of the crimes some privacy, so we don’t put their actual address in,” Longo explained.

About the easy-to-use technology, he added, “This is something if we hadn’t done it now, there would probably be a huge cry for it in two to three years, where people would be saying we absolutely need it. I think we’re ahead of the curve.”

The police department researched several similar programs that are available online, but they didn’t offer the same features as, Wood said.

The interactive crime map, which lists crimes in a column on the left side of the screen and a map on the right, can be sorted by date, crime type and location. In addition, the locations and photos are provided on registered sex offenders. It also has a feature to allow e-mail notification for an assortment of circumstances, such as distance from a home and type of crime. The uses for the site are endless, Longo added.

“If someone is moving to the area, they can just type in the neighborhood and see what crimes have been reported. It’s really for that purpose; people can use it however they want to,” he said. “People need to have this information. … They have a right to know what’s happening in a neighborhood.”

It’s all part of an effort to put important material in the public’s hands, Wood explained. In addition, it mirrors the motto of “if you see something, say something,” allowing the public to monitor their neighborhoods more closely and report suspicious instances to law enforcement.

For example, Wood said, residents might pick up on possible patterns of theft in their immediate areas, or monitor suspicious vehicles that are prowling their streets.

“I think it motivates people to be more aware, and I think it’s going to be well-received,” she said. “For a few hundred dollars a year, it’s worth every penny.”

As Alexander puts it, there was a time when homeowners along her block were more familiar with their neighbors. They knew their names and greeted their children when they walked by their homes.

Through the years, though, many of her neighbors have moved out. Becoming a more informed resident has become a matter of being a better neighbor, she explained.

“In that time, I’ve just become more aware of what’s going on,” she said. About, she added, “I know it’s going to help all of us. This is good, this is what we need.”

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