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Under Tight Budgets, the Chelmsford Police Foundation Provides Funding for CrimeReports
CrimeReports "has helped us to educate the public about crime in the area in an easy-to-use format where they can just go to the website, type in the address, and get the information."
— Deputy Chief Michael Callaway
- Provide citizens with accurate information
- Avoid Impacting budget for other important programs
- Automated, accurate public crime mapping
- Low cost, so community organization can fund it for the department
At a time of tight budgets and cutbacks, The Chelmsford, Massachusetts, Police Department is finding creative ways to improve their service through technology offered by CrimeReports. But instead of paying for the service out of the general police fund, potentially impacting other important programs, a local community group agreed to fund the service so that the Chelmsford PD can stay on the cutting edge of citizen communication without breaking the bank.
Publishing Information on a Tight Budget
Chief James Murphy first saw CrimeReports at a law enforcement conference and decided that it would be good for the community of Chelmsford to have online access to crime information through the site. "The public was very interested in crime and where crime was occurring in town," said Lt. Colin Spence. "Many community residents have contacted the police department and asked about their individual neighborhoods and where crime is occurring in these neighborhoods. So we felt that, to make it easier for the public to get crime information, CrimeReports was a good solution."
Unfortunately the police department was looking at a constricted budget for the year and didn't know how they were going to provide this service to their citizens. That's when Chief Murphy took the matter to the Chelmsford Police Foundation, who considered the opportunity and decided to pay for the first year of service.
The Chelmsford Police Foundation
The Chelmsford Police Foundation was created 25 years ago as a way for community members to financially aid the police in crime fighting efforts. John Harrington, a local businessman and President of the foundation, said that the foundation is comprised of 50 members from all parts of the community. "We have members from all walks of life, so we can accurately represent the fabric of the community,"he said."There are some former officers and a few former chiefs, but we also have the owner of a funeral home, a Raytheon employee, lawyers, and a whole host of other professions represented."
Harrington is very proud of the work that the foundation does. "We bought mats for the police department when they were doing self-defense courses for women. We bought a police dog in the past. We bought uniforms for the honor guard. One year we even bought riding boots for the motorcycle officers," he says. But one of the best parts of the foundation, for Harrington, is the chance to recognize officers who go above and beyond the call of duty. "We keep close tabs on what the department is doing," says Harrington. They go through records and arrests to find officers at the department who are doing an exceptional job, and once a year they are able to honor them at the yearly foundation breakfast.
The foundation is one avenue where community members can be assured that the money they donate goes directly to supporting the officers, says Harrington. Before the foundation began, asks Harrington, "where would this money go? You can't give it to the police officer. You can't give it to the police department unless it goes to one of the unions. It would probably go to the general fund of the town" where it may not even be allocated to the police department specifically. He says that the foundation money, made up of membership dues and community donations, "goes directly to the police department to pay for items that benefit the police department."
Providing a Service to the Police Department and the Community
But the foundation's decision to fund CrimeReports gave the members a chance to do something different. Harrington says that, although they have a long history of helping the police department, they rarely have a chance to fund programs that both benefit the police department and have a direct impact on citizens. He says that the foundation's board members were impressed with the site from the first time the chief introduced it to them. "I like the ability that community members have to get on the site and find out what's going on. And if someone is looking to move to Chelmsford, they can get on and see if there are any problem areas—what's the crime like, what's going on." He says CrimeReports is a very handy tool—"Instead of community members trying to track down all this information on their own, it's right there."
Because of budget constraints, says Harrington, a tool like this "probably wouldn't get on the radar." After all, he points out, the foundation always wants to make sure that "we're not laying off any police officers, which is a always a threat." So he's happy that the foundation is able to provide CrimeReports to the department and to the community without using budget or tax money to pay for it.
Saving Time and Increasing Accuracy
Lt. Spence stated that the reaction from the community and the department has been very positive. He explained that CrimeReports saves time for the department and gives more accurate data to community members than they have had in the past. Before CrimeReports, community members "would call and ask either a dispatcher or a supervisor about certain neighborhoods—but that wasn't as precise." He says that CrimeReports has helped free up time for employees who used to try and answer those questions by phone. According to Spence, officers don't have exact knowledge of every crime that occurs, which could result in passing inaccurate or vague information to the public. But CrimeReports provides data to the public directly from the agency's RMS systems, so, says Spence, "CrimeReports is obviously more accurate."
But perhaps more importantly, says Spence, is that CrimeReports "has helped us to educate the public about crime in the area in an easy-to-use format where they can just go to the website, type in the address, and get the information." It's quicker, easier, and more accurate than any citizen information tool they've had before.