They're calling it WebCop. It's an online form to report things like minor theft or property damage. So say you come home to find your bicycle missing from the garage, instead of waiting a couple hours to hear back from an officer and file a report, you can just go online and submit the case there. Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt says they came up with the online reporting in an effort to save police man hours. Each report made online will save about 60 minutes of officer time.
"We think that if we can cut the number of responses to these types of reports in half, we will save about 50,000 man hours a year. Which equates to about 48 full-time employees."
That's good news for a heavily overburdened and stretched police force. Officers will no longer go to the scene, take testimony and file a report by hand. And this is only for crimes where there are no witnesses, no suspects, no evidence and damages are under $5,000. Last year there were 73,091 thefts meeting those criteria and another 26,546 criminal mischief complaints.
"We could use that officer to have them out investigating more serious burglaries or thefts or assaults or just out in the area preventing other crimes from occurring. This is not Dick Tracy stuff. You look in the private sector you know they're using computers, cameras, technology on a day to day basis and it's very fortunate, I think, that law enforcement and public safety is beginning to take advantage of those resources."
And because will be electronically submitted and automatically filed, it'll make it easier for the department to pick up on crime patterns and trends that may emerge.
"And see what'll happen, the burglary and theft division will look at that and see if there's a pattern or crime in that area. Then they can make the connection to that if we go to some place and recover a great deal of evidence or property that has been stolen and if we can hook it back to some of those reports that came in over the internet, we'll be able to return that property."
Hurtt says the department is looking into putting other forms online, including the blue form used to report minor accidents. And he says, although this will save man hours and free up officers, they'll still be operating under a severe police shortage. There's a link to the HPD WebCop form on our website, kuhf dot org. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.