Where’s a cop when you need one?
The answer to that frustrated lament of the criminally aggrieved rests more and more right at their fingertips.
Giving citizens the option of making police reports online is a growing trend with law enforcement agencies across the country.
Last week, Shawnee joined a handful of other Kansas City area departments in launching an online reporting service for selected minor crimes, typically in cases where a report is needed only for insurance claims.
It’s a nod to the growing reliance on computers and hand-held devices that people use to communicate and carry on day-to-day business transactions, Shawnee Maj. Bill Hisle said.
“It’s the direction we’re going,” Hisle said.
Proponents of online reporting say it not only provides a convenient option for citizens, it also lets police departments marshal limited resources and frees up officers for their most serious work.
Once approved, the reports are considered official records just as if they had been filed in the traditional way. Whether taken in person or online, after all, police reports on small crimes are based on what citizens relate to officers.
Since the first online reporting service was established a decade ago in California, almost 400 agencies in the United States and Canada have adopted the service, according to James Lee, chief operating officer with Coplogic Inc., the company that started the program.
“It’s growing,” Lee said. “More are signing up every year.”
Coplogic was founded by a police officer at a time when departments were dealing with shrinking budgets and trying to figure out ways to do more with less, Lee said. Today, departments using the Coplogic system are logging 500,000 to 1 million online reports a year, he said.
The company claims that each report taken online saves an average of $50 and about 90 minutes of a police officer’s time.
Some departments like Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan., also offer a service that allows people to file reports over the telephone for the same sort of minor offenses now handled in some places online.
The Kansas City Police Department has been talking with Lee’s company about starting the service there, he said. Kansas City police Maj. Greg Volker called it a good program that the department hopes to implement soon, although he could not give a time frame.
“We’re actively looking into it,” Volker said. “It’s going to happen.”
Kansas City area departments that have already adopted online reporting say it’s popular with citizens, who otherwise would have to take the time to go to a police station in person or wait for an officer to come to their location.
Overland Park Police Officer Gary Mason said many of those taking advantage of the system just need a report for insurance purposes for things like property damage or stolen property.
More than 800 online reports were submitted in Overland Park during 2011 and 2012, Mason said.
Most were approved, although a handful are rejected each year for a variety of reasons. Sometimes people hand over insufficient information or report something that didn’t take place in Overland Park.
Olathe is in its second year of accepting online reports.
More than 300 online reports were processed in Olathe last year. There have been about 170 so far in 2013, Sgt. Bryan Hill said.
The service has proved helpful in several cases involving victims of identity theft who were in the military serving overseas, he said. Without the online option, he said, the victims would have been unable to report the crimes.
Shawnee’s service went online Aug. 21, and Hisle said it received about a dozen submissions in its first week.
Hisle emphasized that online reporting is being offered as an option and is not required for minor incident reporting.
“Anyone can still ask to speak to an officer if they prefer,” he said. “If it’s an ongoing situation or an emergency, then they should call 911.”