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Published: Wednesday, 7/28/2004

Monroe County: Crime reports to be filed on the net

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - The victims of minor crime in Monroe County can now file their own police reports about their pilfered belongings - as long as it wasn't their computer that was stolen.

Monroe County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield last week brought online a new program that allows residents to file police reports for certain types of minor crimes over the internet.

The online reporting system - accessible through Monroe County's Web site, www.co.monroe.mi.us - is intended to help free officers from at least some of the drudgery of paperwork for minor crimes that much of their job has historically entailed, the sheriff said.

"We anticipate it growing as citizens become more aware that the service is there," Sheriff Crutchfield said. "They are crimes for minor offenses. In time, we could save a significant amount of time in not having to respond to those calls."

The list of actual crimes and incidents that can be reported online is relatively small. They range from thefts and identity thefts to malicious destruction of property and non-injury traffic accidents that occur on private property.

But in the past, such incidents would have to be called into 911, or reported directly to the sheriff's office, and a report compiled by a deputy, whether or not there was any chance of the incident being solved.

"Our calls are prioritized, so the time that it takes an officer to respond to some of these calls is going to vary with what else is occurring at the time," Sheriff Crutchfield explained. "But if the citizen goes online to report it themselves, then they won't have to wait."

After the online form is filled out, the reports are reviewed by a sheriff's deputy for content and assigned a report number. They are then available for use as necessary for insurance or other purposes, the sheriff said.

Online crime reporting is a relatively new phenomenon among law enforcement agencies that are normally reticent to allow civilians to do their work for them. But budgetary constraints brought on by an overall tight national economy have caused more and more departments to look at the operations as a cost-saving move.

Indeed, the Sylvania Police Department has allowed residents there to file police reports online for similar-type crimes for more than five years.

One drawback for many departments that might be tempted to move some of their minor work online is the thought that online reporting might make it easier for someone to file a false police report.

But Sheriff Crutchfield said national studies of the practice show that it is no more prevalent in online reporting situations than it is in traditional police work.

"While it's certainly possible for someone to file [a false report], it hasn't proven to be a serious problem," the sheriff said.



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