Our opinion: The new crime tip app

The Sheriff's Department has unveiled a smartphone app that lets people provide crime tips anonymously to police. The hope is that people too afraid to go to authorities will now be able to do so, protected by anonymity.

We hope it works and that police are better able to solve local crimes. We also commend the Bennington County Sheriff's Department and The Collaborative — An anti-substance abuse group — for reaching out to the community and putting this in place.

If you want to download the app, go to your phone's app store and search for "tip411 Bennington." Many other agencies use the tip411 app, so be sure to choose the one listed as "BenningtonCo Sheriff." The app is pretty bare bones and simple. It lets you send text as well as photos. It will also let you receive alert messages police decide to send out during emergencies.

In January of last year, Bennington was dealing with a string of armed robberies that had left many people feeling afraid and discouraged. One of the things locals attempted to do to solve the problem was create a neighborhood watch program. The watchers held meetings and invited Bennington Police. At one such meeting, Detective Larry Cole shared an interesting point of view regarding crime tips.

Many people police had spoken about the robberies had information on the suspects, said Cole, but they wouldn't give police an official statement for fear of retaliation. "It's TV stuff," he said. "Is it a concern? Certainly. Is it a viable concern? No."

Cole's point was essentially that the criminals around here lack the wherewithal to effectively threaten witnesses into silence. They tend to be desperate people more in need of help than they are members of Boston's Winter Hill Gang or the Los Zetas Cartel. But, understandably, people feel otherwise, and their silence is a hindrance to police, who, despite being well-qualified to investigate crimes, rely on the public for information.

Hopefully this app will catch on around the county and get the information flowing. Similar efforts in the past haven't always worked. Police at the January 2016 neighborhood watch meeting said there used to a tip line in Bennington — complete with a monetary reward system — that often yielded bogus information from people taking stabs in the dark, either hoping to make a quick buck or hassle their neighbors. We hope these problems don't repeat themselves.

Don't forget the Vermont State Police also use an anonymous tip system. The website for it is www.vtips.info. Tips can also be sent through text message to the number 274637 (CRIMES). Write "VTIPS" then the information you want to send.


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