When law enforcement is seeking information on a crime or looking for a wanted suspect, there are several methods available for getting that information.
One way is by having Webster County Crime Stoppers provide a phone number for anonymous tips to be sent in. But a phone number isn't the only tool Crime Stoppers has at its disposal.
Since 2009, those with information on crimes or suspects have had the option of either emailing or texting their tips to law enforcement.
Lt. Kelly Hindman, District 7 commander of the Iowa State Patrol, said that service is provided thanks to software known as TipSoft.
"It has allowed us to expand Crime Stoppers from simply phone calls to where people can now send us information via text messaging or email," Hindman said. "And even with those two technologies, the provider of information remains anonymous."
Hindman said it was decided to use TipSoft as a way of keeping up to date on technology.
"In this society where everybody carries a phone with them, we thought providing them instant access to Crime Stoppers was important," he said. "We need the public's help, and that's what drives Crime Stoppers. We try to meet them where they're at when it comes to technology."
It also helps provide younger people with a way of sending information.
"We're also trying to reach out to the younger generation," he said. "They tend to use text over calling, and we've provided that as an avenue to send information."
Hindman said TipSoft began with a "soft roll out" in 2009 and "really started to kick in at the start of 2010," and since then has seen success.
As of Thursday morning, Hindman said about 425 tips had been sent in since it began.
"What's unique about TipSoft is that, unlike a phone line, we can go back and forth with the person that's sending us tips," he said. "That way they can provide us additional information."
Within those 425 tips, Hindman said there are more than 2,500 conversations between tipsters and either dispatchers or law enforcement officers. Those conversations continue until the tipster decides to stop providing information.
"If at some point they don't want to talk to us, they can just type in 'stop' and at that point the conversation ends," he said. "We have no way of recontacting them unless they start up another conversation."
Hindman said TipSoft has proven a positive addition to the crime fighting efforts in Webster County. Tips come in at all times of day and every day of the week.
"The tips don't really have a pattern," he said. "They come in throughout all seven days of the week with a few more on the weekend. We get tips throughout the day and night. I think that tells us that when you make something easier to do it'll be used more readily."
The biggest advantage of TipSoft, he said, is the ongoing communication between those providing information and law enforcement.
"We can clarify information," Hindman said. "Often they have additional information and we get a more complete picture. That's been the biggest gain."
"It gets more people engaged in the process," he added. "So if it's convenient and more people will use it, it's a win for law enforcement."