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Osceola County starts new tip program

Osceola County Sheriff Doug Weber has implemented a new way for tipsters to help out law enforcement but stay completely anonymous using text messages.

"Using this, it is virtually impossible to find out who sent (the message) in," Weber said.

A tipster can send a text message, which then goes to a server in Canada, where it is encrypted. From there, it is sent to Anderson Software in Texas, where it is assigned a number and sent to the sheriff's office. This all takes place in moments.

"We can also send a message back to the tipster, asking for more information," Weber said. "But they don't have to respond, and can put a block on it."

Other agencies that use the service have often had extended conversations with the tipster, getting plenty of information, yet ensuring the informant's privacy.

To use the service, a caller just needs to send a text message to the number 274637, which spells out CRIME. In the body of the message, the caller needs to type in tip721, then put in the message. Within moments, they will receive back a message that says the message has been received, and gives the alias number.

"Call 911 if emergency," the reply states. "Reply anytime. Delete your tip for safety. Text STOP to block replies."

Now, Weber said, it is just a matter of getting young people to trust it.

"This is really targeted toward younger people, who seem to text all the time," he explained. "We're trying to get the word out to the public, which the schools said they would help with."

Decades ago, law enforcement started a program called Crime Stoppers, which asked the public to call in tips. These days, Weber said, between recording calls and having caller ID, people are a little more hesitant to call.

"People are afraid of retaliation or harassment or whatever," he stated. "This text program is completely anonymous."

Another interesting note, Weber said, is that the same type of service will soon be available on their Web site. People will be able to go online and type a message, which will then be encrypted.

"It can not be traced back to your computer," Weber said. 'Just another week or so, and it will be up."

The text program is already up and running.