To keep the Wilmington community safe and provide a convenient way to communicate with residents, the Wilmington Police Department has been adopting more technology-based platforms over the past few years.
This includes the recent launch of the Mobile News/Public Information Officer (PIO) units, which are SUVs branded with QR codes for people to scan and download an app to submit anonymous tips. The goal of the units is to increase the visibility of PIOs at police crime scenes and encourage the community to send tips.
“We are always looking for new ways to engage the public and to increase our visibility. The SUVs allow us to be easily identified by local media outlets at crime scenes and are also a great tool to use at community events,” said Brandon Shope, communications specialist with the Wilmington Police Department, in an email.
One of the ways the city’s police department has provided a method for sending in anonymous tips is through the text-a-tip program it launched years ago. This was a way to continue to build partnerships with the community, Shope said.
“Our officers work daily to keep our community safe. As technology evolves, so do we,” he said. “We wanted to provide citizens with an alternative method to sending in tips anonymously.”
The text-a-tip program has evolved into the Wilmington NC PD app, which WPD launched in November 2020. The application, available for download for free on the Apple App Store and Google Play, allows users to submit tips, receive crime alerts and other community information and view WPD’s social media and online content. Residents can still submit anonymous tips via text by sending the keyword WPDNC with the tip to 847411.
Through the app, users can submit a tip using their location and attach a photo or video as well as customize alerts.
A key feature of the app is that it uses technology to remove any identifying information on the sender.
“We do not see who sends us the tips; all of that information is scrubbed completely,” Shope said. “Our STING Center is able to communicate with the tipster directly in a 100% anonymous way.”
The app was developed by tip411, a company that provides web-based products including custom, agency- branded apps for law enforcement.
Shope said many community members have downloaded the app and it has assisted the police department with solving crimes through the years, such as larcenies, hit-and-runs and homicides.
Another piece of technology WPD has recently adopted is the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) Program from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The program automates ballistics evaluations and provides timely investigative leads. The ATF describes the program as the only interstate automated ballistic imaging network in operation in the U.S.
The program allows law enforcement to share ballistic imaging technology from shell casings recovered from crime scenes and firearm testing. When a projectile travels down a cylinder it leaves grooves on the projectile that are specific to each gun. Shell casing analysis can help determine if bullets have been fired from the same gun.
“To use NIBIN, firearms examiners or technicians enter cartridge casing evidence into the Integrated Ballistic Identification System. These images are correlated against the database. Law enforcement can search against evidence from their jurisdiction, neighboring ones, and others across the country,” the TAF website states. “This program is one investigative tool accessed by law enforcement that allows each of us to share information and cooperation easily making all of us more effective in closing cases.”
Traditionally, firearm examiners performed this process manually, which, according to officials, is extremely labor-intensive.
Collaboration, among law enforcement and with local communities, is important for solving crimes.
“The police department cannot solve crimes alone. It takes the entire community working together to combat crime and identify offenders,” Shope said.
The department sees technology as a tool for reaching out to the community.
“We are always looking out for new innovations,” Shope said, “and these are just a few examples of how WPD is working to think outside of the box to combat crime.”