BELTON — Bell County residents can now post crime tips and information online to the Bell County Sheriff Department’s new Virtual Neighborhood Watch website.
The site — www.bellcountycrimes.org — went live at noon Tuesday, officials said.
Bruce Moran, president of Strategic Information Services that created C.R.I.M.E.S. (Community Related Information Management Exchange System), and Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange introduced the new program Tuesday just before its launch.
The online program lets community members report anonymously or otherwise to a fusion site so they can become involved in the community and help solve crimes such as human trafficking, burglaries, violent crimes, property crimes, terrorism and, at the same time, report any suspicious activities, Lange said.
Community leaders contacted Lange about how they could help battle crime, especially human trafficking, and Lange met with Moran almost a year ago, he said.
Lange initially challenged his leaders several years ago to come up with something more proactive, and Special Crimes Unit Lt. Michele Cianci “jumped on the bandwagon” and looked for ways Bell County could do that, he said.
Cianci is very excited about what this program can accomplish, she told the Telegram.
“It’s just another tool in our toolbox. To see the community give us information that we can follow up on, it makes it become more cohesive between law enforcement and the community,” Cianci said.
How the system works
Instead of a state or national level fusion center, Virtual Neighborhood Watch is a local information center, Moran said. Having local information will help change the “landscape of what is going on in Bell County” by bridging the communication gap and serving as a buffer between the community and law enforcement agencies.
Residents will submit incident dates, times, short descriptions, names, criminal conduct, addresses and more to the website. Photos and videos can be attached, too.
All tips are anonymous unless the person submitting it provides contact information.
The site is perfect for all residents, including “soccer moms sitting in the school pickup lines” who spot things while waiting for their children, Moran added.
Getting groups involved and aware is also planned in the near future.
The new site will help people become more comfortable in reporting things they see and hear locally, Moran said. All of the information received is analyzed and forwarded, if it has merit, to the Special Crimes Unit. Cianci will route the information to where it needs to go within the department, like the SCU or Criminal Investigations Division (CID).
Cianci said she believes her unit can handle the extra duties.
“We’re a repository with this information and then we’ll farm it out to other jurisdictions if that’s where it needs to go.”
No information will be thrown away, Instead, all information will be stored because it might be important later, Moran said. Sometimes all that is needed for an investigator is “that extra little piece of the puzzle.”
There is no cost to county taxpayers at this time, Lange said.
Moran said he dreams about expanding to adjacent counties and even globally. Florida, California and New York would be the next target sites for expanding the network.
One of the major purposes of C.R.I.M.E.S. is to fight human trafficking — sex trafficking, child sex trafficking and labor trafficking, Moran said.
The more proactive approach will help local law enforcement agencies catch the ones further up the food chain than the “johns,” Lange said.
It is hoped this program will help identify and arrest those behind the scenes — like the pimps — to make more of an impact on people’s lives, he said.
Ranked second in the nation, Bell County is in the center of the “Trafficking Triangle” that runs between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
Moran compared C.R.I.M.E.S. to “the Amber Alert on steroids.”
He warned criminals in or around Bell County to watch out because a lot of people are now watching them.
“It’s not just cars with lights and sirens anymore” because the community becomes part of the workforce and expands the investigative workforce exponentially, Moran said.
However, if there is an emergency, always call 911, Lange said.