Like many police departments, Anne Arundel County police often find useful information for preventing crime and bringing criminals to justice through anonymous phone calls and emails.
But in an effort to increase the involvement of teens and young adults, the department is introducing a smartphone application that allows someone to submit tips to the department directly from their phone or tablet.
The "AACOPD Speak Out" app is now available online and for Android Products and is expected to be available in the iTunes App Store later this week, according to a department press release.
Cpl. William Davis, assigned to Old Mill High School, began using his nine years of experience as a student resource officer to develop the app one month ago.
"It allows [students] to communicate with us in a medium they're familiar with," Davis told The Baltimore Sun.
Davis told Patch he has no formal training in software or app development, but he describes himself as one of the most "tech-savvy" officers in the department. He used his self-taught computer skills for a lot of the design, but for the things he didn't know, Davis joked, "There's this thing called Google."
According to the department, as students begin to use the app, they will be able to "quickly and anonymously email School Resource Unit officers and supervisors with any questions, concerns or notifications about at-risk behavior."
But the application is not completely anonymous, police announced in a press conference on Monday. Even though communication from the sender to the department will not be visible to the public, the department will be able to trace the messages to an email account and an IP address.
"This is about as close [to anonymous] as we're going to get with the existing technology," said Lt. J.D. Batten Jr., School Safety Section Commander.
Batten said the department is not planning to trace tips back to users in investigations, however.
"We don't want to make arrests," Batten said. "We want to help them long before it gets to that point."
All 12 of the high schools in the county have an assigned school resource officer, in addition to 10 of the 19 middle schools. The phone numbers and email addresses of the 22 school resource officers are available on the app and website.
Schools that don't have an assigned resource officer will have tips screened by resource unit supervisors and directed to the police, school or social service system accordingly.