Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cellular Phones: Latest Law-Enforcement Tool for Citizen Groups

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cellular Phones: Latest Law-Enforcement Tool for Citizen Groups

Article excerpt

On Halloween night, the citizen's watch group in Elizabethtown, Pa., conducted a foot patrol through the neighborhood. There were no incidents. In fact, the whole event would have been unremarkable except for one change: It was the first time the watch group had walked the beat with cellular telephones.

Cell phones are popping up in unexpected places from driver's education classes to pizza-delivery vans. Now, a gadget most people consider a convenience is becoming a crime-stopper.

Already, many police departments have adopted the technology. Patrolmen not only talk over cellular phones, they send and receive data too. The technology has gotten so cheap and pervasive that the cellular telephone industry is helping neighborhood-watch groups do the same thing - for free. The industry is encouraging its members to give away 50,000 cellular phones and air time to 10,000 neighborhood-watch groups around the country. Any watch group can apply with the approval of its local police department. The program, Communities on Phone Patrol, even has its own mascot, COPP, which was introduced last week in Harrisburg, Pa. (You know a technology has established itself when it gets a mascot devoted not to itself but to what it can do.) The idea seems sound. Where it has been tried, cell-phone-equipped watch groups have begun turning the tide in the battle against thieves and beeper-toting drug lords. In 11 Miami-area communities, for example, thefts went down 9 percent and burglaries fell by one-third after citizen-watch groups got cellular phones, according to a study by Florida International University. In Salt Lake City, break-ins decreased 27 percent. Nationwide, some 50,000 times a day, cellular-phone users make calls to emergency 911 centers. Mobile communications offers several advantages as a crime-stopping technology. …

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