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Police offer dial-a-report systems

Kansas City Star

The next time you call the police about a broken window or stolen bicycle, they might not send an officer over to take the report.

Instead, depending on where you live, you might be asked to phone in details of the crime.

This fall, Olathe joined the growing number of area police departments who have set up telephone systems for residents to report nonviolent crimes.

Advocates say that such systems, especially in larger areas, are quicker and free up officers to deal with more violent offenses.

"It makes our response times quicker to priority calls, like alarms and the ones in progress," said Kansas City, Kan., Officer Ryan Fincher. "I'm not downplaying the importance of the others, but we want to get to the in-progress crimes and those where people have the potential for being injured."

Officials in some other departments, however, said they prefer giving each case a more personal touch. They send officers to even the most routine calls.

"We're still pretty traditional," said Raytown Police Capt. Ted Bowman. "We make every effort to respond to the crimes and take the reports at the scene  We go when they call us because, as far as we know, that's what they (residents) expect."

Others worry that crucial information could be missed when reports are taken by phone.

"That's the crime scene," Lees Summit Officer John Boenker said. "You're giving up all sorts of evidence by not going. We can't judge that over the phone."

Still, the areas three largest population centers  Overland Park and the two Kansas Citys  have had telephone reporting for years. Some residents, police there say, prefer not to wait for an officer.

"Well tell them they can come in or speak to the citizen call-in system, or we can send out an officer," said Officer Jim Weaver of Overland Park. "Many times they would rather call in and give the report over the phone."

Olathe launched its system last month. Officials are hoping the pilot program will save them money while continuing to respond to the increased demand for police service.

"The way the community is growing, we have to find ways to do things smarter," said Olathe Police Maj. Bill Sullivan. "From a budget standpoint, adding officers is expensive."

It costs the department about $28 an hour in salary and benefits to send a police officer out to take a report, Sullivan said, compared with the $13 paid to telephone-reporting unit employees, who work part time and without benefits.

"With officers, it actually costs even more when you figure in the cost of the car, fuel and the time it takes to respond," Sullivan said.

Others argue that phone-in reporting, because it is faster, increases the likelihood of recovering stolen property.

"If you have a stolen auto, it can take up to four hours to send someone out," said Capt. Rich Lockhart of the Kansas City Police Department. "If you report it over the phone, the information is put into the computer immediately."

Vehicle crashes arent usually handled by telephone, but some departments ask drivers to make walk-in reports after fender benders or in bad weather. And it makes a difference whether the accident occurred on private property or on the street.

All departments interviewed send officers to serious collisions, those with injuries, alcohol or illegal drugs  even on private property.

Kansas and Missouri do not require police reports for minor accidents on private property, but some departments send officers to those as well. Others, including Kansas City, encourage walk-in reports even when minor accidents occur on the street.

With other crimes, departments differ in the types of reports taken over the phone.

Only smaller offenses, like vandalism and previous thefts, are reported by phone in Olathe.

Lenexa does not have a telephone-reporting system, but does require service stations to report gas thefts by fax.

Meanwhile, Kansas City urges victims to phone in a list of offenses including stealing, property damage, forgery, fraud and stolen autos, as long as there is no evidence of value to collect at the scene.

Even robberies and some assaults, including domestic confrontations, are reported by phone in Kansas City if at least four hours have elapsed since the incident and the suspect is gone.

The litmus test is whether there is evidence to collect or a suspect to apprehend at the scene. If so, departments will send an officer. Most will dispatch an officer if the caller insists, and any crime report taken by phone also can be reported in person at the police station.

All reports, whether taken over the phone, walked in or written at the scene by an officer, are treated alike.

"It still gets sent to a detective," Lockhart said. "So it doesnt take anything away from that."

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