BENNINGTON — A new tool will help put the power to fight crime in the palm of Bennington County residents' hands.
An anonymous tip reporting program, powered by a free smartphone app, has been launched through the Bennington County Sheriff Department and The Collaborative. The app will help residents submit anonymous tips to law enforcement agencies, as well as receive alerts with their smartphone, according to Detective Sgt. Lloyd Dean.
Details of the new initiative were discussed at a press conference at the sheriff's headquarters Monday morning. The free smartphone app is available for Android and iPhone mobile devices.
Dean said among the crimes the department and Collaborative are encouraging people to send tips for include burglaries, illegal drug activity, a party where underage youth are consuming alcohol, and bullying.
The initiative is one piece of a grant-funded partnership program to combat substance abuse, said Victoria Silsby with The Collaborative's substance prevention program. The Collaborative is the lead organization for the five-year federally funded partnership program; funding is funneled from the state Department of Health.
"We think this county-wide approach sends a clear message that Bennington County is committed to reducing substance use and engages in substance use prevention initiatives," she said.
Minnesota-based CitizenObserver created the tip411 tool, according to the company's website. Law enforcement, schools, call centers and emergency management in over 1,000 communities use the company's tools.
The app users should download here is called "BenningtonCo Sheriff" in the Android and iPhone app stores; it comes up with a search of "tip411 Bennington." Once downloaded, a user can send a completely anonymous tip to an account that's monitored through the sheriff's department.
Once a message is sent, all identifying information is removed before police see it, meaning there is no way to identify the sender, Dean said. The app also lets the sender communicate anonymously back-and-forth if police need more information.
"In addition to receiving information, we can send out an alert to people who have downloaded the app," Dean said. "We're able to send an alert to people in a specific zip code."
That could mean alerting community members of an incident at a public building like the state office complex in Bennington. That building went into lockdown recently after an employee thought someone had shot out their car's rear window. It was determined that there was no danger. But rumors online swirled, as some people posted speculative and incorrect information about the incident online.
The Bennington and Manchester police department's will participate in the initiative, Dean said. Outreach will be done in local schools to explain the initiative to students, faculty and administration.
The tip program is not a replacement for 911, Dean said. Anyone with an emergency should still call 911 to immediately report it to authorities.
Reach staff writer Edward Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.