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Va. police using new information system to alert citizens

This article originally appeared in the South Hill Enterprise and was re-printed with permission.

LA CROSSE, Va. — A new service being offered by the La Crosse Police Department will help keep the community informed of possible dangers while helping to expand the force’s eyes and ears when searching for suspects or missing persons.

“It is a win-win situation,” said Chief Rob Hall. “It can help bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community. That is a big priority of mine.”

The Alert La Crosse Community Information System will allow residents to receive e-mails or text messages on their cell phones about severe weather, breaking crime updates, missing persons, community meetings and events and crime solver type cases, according to Hall.

The service is free to sign up for but text message rates may vary based on users’ individual mobile phone plans.

The service is also being offered for free to the La Crosse Police Department.

“The company that is offering this, Nixle, does the same sort of thing for businesses and that is where they make their money,” said Hall. “But, they provide the service to public safety and law enforcement at no charge.

“When citizens sign up they specify their zip code,” continued Hall. “Nixle then takes that and cross references it and sees who near that zip code is putting messages out.”

Hall said the system could be a big help in breaking crime situations.

He described a recent incident involving an alleged shoplifter who eluded police.

“We had a description of him and what he was wearing,” said Hall, noting that after the search was discontinued, he returned to La Crosse for a meeting, where he told people about the incident.

Shortly after the meeting, Hall said he received a call from the La Crosse mayor who had been contacted by someone in the meeting who had seen the suspect on their way home.

“I chased him and the guy eventually ran out of steam,” said Hall. “But had it not been for someone having heard who we were looking for we may never have caught him.

“This kind of system allows for exactly that kind of information to go out to anybody who wants it,” add Hall.

Hall said the system could be equally effective in finding missing children or seniors, describing a situation where a good portion of the community immediately has information that a person is missing and a description of what to look for.

“Citizens in the La Crosse area can register at www.nixle.com, said Hall. The registration process is very easy and secure. They may select at that time how they would like to be notified - by e-mail and/or text message or simply have access to the information online. They choose, and can modify their choice at any time.

This is a secure system, and no one needs to worry about having their information sold or compromised, he continued.

Another nice aspect to this service is that I will be able to send immediate alerts (such as we would have had when we were searching for the shoplifter) from the field, via my cell phone. This will create the ability for citizens to get breaking alerts as they are happening which will be a tremendous boon to both law enforcement and citizens alike.

The La Crosse Police Department will be at National Night Out in South Hill on Aug. 4, with information on the service. All citizens in the La Crosse area are encouraged to take advantage of this free service.

Copyright 2009 South Hill Enterprise

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