Outside a nightclub in Atlanta, Arman Deganian and Herman Hoying survived a terrifying ordeal — they were kidnapped and thrown into the trunk of a car, and found their way out through their cell phones.
"His impulse was right away to send a text message, and that's what saved us," Hoying said.
Deganian quickly texted his brother and said, "We've been kidnapped. Please call the police and help us." His brother then alerted the police, who found and arrested the two male kidnappers.
It's that kind of initiative that has police departments looking to use cell phones as another type of crime-fighting tool, as Americans send more than 18 billion text messages each month.
The Boston Police Department is the first in the country to create an anonymous texting tip line — so, if someone spots suspicious activity in the area, he or she can text the letters C-R-I-M-E, or the numbers 27463, and engage in an anonymous dialogue with a dispatcher.
Police still suggest the use of 911 for time sensitive emergencies, but they've found in some cases that text messaging can lead to a better tip, as teens already use their phones to spread information.
"We would go to crime scenes … and what we were finding out were that kids on the sides were texting one another what just happened," said Boston Crime Stoppers Unit Commander Cecil Jones.
And those text messages often lead to more detailed accounts of the crime than what they expect from 911 calls. "People will give us more," Jones said. "It's helped us on murder cases, it's helped us on domestic violence cases, it's given us great intel on the drug activity that's taken place in our city."
This approach can be especially appealing to teenagers who may hesitate to make a phone call when they see suspicious activity.
"I think it would make me a little bit nervous … you don't want them to hear you," said Khadija Layne, 17. "If you're texting it, you're looking down … so, it's, like, secretive in a way … texting is much better."
Other police departments may follow Boston's lead, seeing it as a new neighborhood watch that goes beyond the front stoop to wherever there are cell phones — which these days is just about everywhere.