Victims of minor crimes in South Portland may now report them from their computer terminals, smart phones and other Internet devices.

The South Portland Police Department recently introduced its Desk Officer Online Reporting System, which allows people to report minor crimes that occur in the city to the department’s website rather than to an officer.

Since the service became available two weeks ago in a “soft launch,” eight reports have been filed.

Lt. Frank Clark, who is in charge of the system, said South Portland may be the first police department in Maine to use an online crime-reporting system.

The city bought the system with $17,000 in federal grant money.

The service is designed to make it more convenient for people who don’t want to wait for a police officer to report minor crimes or don’t want to go to the police station. Clark said another goal is to reduce paperwork for police officers, enabling them to spend more time on the street.

Anyone who wants to report a crime in person to a police officer may still do so, he said.

The system, on South Portland’s website at www.southportland.org, walks the user through the reporting process, asking the same types of questions a police officer would ask, such as name, address and the location and time of the incident.

Reportable crimes include harassing phone calls, identity theft, vandalism, vehicle tampering, lost property, vehicle burglary and theft.

The user receives an immediate e-mail confirmation of the report. An officer reviews the entry, and e-mails a free final report to the user for their records or their insurance company.

The fee for a hard copy of a crime report at the police station is $10.

The report goes into the department’s record management system, where it receives the same review and analysis as any report filed by a police officer.

Also available is a kiosk in the lobby of the police station, at the corner of Broadway and Anthoine Street, where residents may file crime reports online.

About 160 public safety agencies are using the same system in other states. The police department in Yarmouth, Mass., started using it in April 2009 and got 600 online reports that year.

It has had 250 reports this year to date, said Lt. Steven Xiarhos.

Yarmouth has a population of 25,000, which surges to 65,000 in the summer — comparable to South Portland’s population of 23,300, which climbs to 60,000 to 80,000 when the Maine Mall is open.

Xiarhos said it appears that the convenience of online reporting has led more people to report crimes they may not have bothered with in the past.

It also has helped the department discern crime patterns.

The police department in Amherst, Mass., which has a population of 34,000 and three college campuses, is averaging about 20 online reports a month.

“We are dealing with a population of people who prefer to do things online.

They want to report their iPod as stolen, but they don’t want to come here or have a police officer sent to their house,” said Capt. Jennifer Gundersen.

Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said he is unaware of any other police department in Maine that is using the technology.

He said it may catch on if it proves to be a time saver, “but there are some people who will still want to see a live person.”

 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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