Digital 911 Takes Crime Fighting Cellular

The phrase "In case of an emergency, call 911" could someday soon become as antiquated as the rotary phone.

Several major U.S. cities, including New York and Los Angeles, are exploring a new technology that would allow citizens to send cell phone pictures and video through the cities' 911 system.

The software, developed by the Connecticut-based company PowerPhone, is not in use yet, but many cities see it in their futures.

"The sooner the better," Lt. Bill Schwartz of the Miami Police Department told ABC News. "We're living in an age where information is instantaneous. Why shouldn't law enforcement take advantage of that?"

In January, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to install a system that could receive cell phone photos and video. The Los Angeles Police Department announced a similar plan Tuesday, also saying it was researching technology that would allow people to send text messages to 911.

"We want to be able to accept data and correlate that data with a particular emergency event," LAPD analyst Karen Bottancino told ABC News.

By December, the LAPD hopes to be able to accept solicited cell phone photos, Bottancino said. Under this system, a 911 caller would receive a text message from the operator and would reply to that message with the photo attached.

Greg Sheehan, a spokesman for PowerPhone, told ABC News that with the software, called Incident Link Multimedia, 911 call centers could also receive unsolicited pictures through e-mail addresses that would be advertised by city police departments.

"It makes it very easy for them to get that photo to the 911 center," Sheehan said. "In an emergency where seconds count that's very important."

Sending Perp Photos

Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik told ABC News that pictures would be very helpful to officers responding to a scene with a fleeing perpetrator because they are a dramatic improvement over witness descriptions.

"Pictures don't lie," Kerik said. "If you have a picture, and you can transpose that picture into a car, and officers can get a real-time, real-life photo, then officers are going to know what they're looking for, and that's the best."

Sgt. Lee Sands, a spokesman for the LAPD, agreed that pictures of a crime scene from cell phones would help officials catch perpetrators.

"Video would give detectives a starting point," he told ABC News. "I think it would expedite investigations a lot better."

Pictures and video that relay details and the full impact of situations would also be helpful in coordinating different response units if necessary, White Plains, N.Y., Public Safety Commissioner Frank Straub told ABC News.

"You can have simultaneous dispatch of multiple services to one incident," he said. "It's clearly the way to go. Having the advantage of an image is tremendous."

Schwartz said that the text-messaging feature, which is not part of PowerPhone's latest software, according to Sheehan, would be particularly helpful during crimes such as robberies or kidnappings, when an assailant is still near a victim.

"If someone can safely indicate through whatever means possible their situation without the bad guy knowing about it, we would be in a better position to help them," Schwartz said.

But Kerik said he was wary of the use of text messages to report violent crime.

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