Skyping with the police

The Redwood City Police Department is experimenting with a new live video chat service that lets residents access a police officer from a computer. Sumi Das brings you behind the scenes of police officer 2.0.

The cops are getting their geek on. Four days a week, a police officer ducks into the social media room at the Redwood City Police Department, launches a video chat application and stands by waiting for your call, just like those Time Life Books operators.

Located smack in the middle of the Valley, the police department is the first in the country to offer video chat on its Web site. Police Chief J.R. Gamez was clearly peacock-proud when we asked about his organization's tech know-how. The police department tweets city alerts to followers and posts updates on Facebook. They even have a presence on Flickr and YouTube. It makes perfect sense, actually. At a time when city budgets are shrinking, why wouldn't you take advantage of all the social networking tools which are a relative bargain? Video chat only costs the department $200 per computer license.

The video chat program is staffed by officers who are on desk duty -- so they aren't taken off the streets. Callers don't have to provide any personal information and their questions are typically answered right away, or while the caller waits. And officers will field calls from all over the country. You don't have to be a Redwood City resident. One officer we spoke to told received a call from a pajama-clad New Yorker whose Social Security card had been stolen.

Video chat is a 3-month-long experiment that will last through October. Whether it's continued afterward remains to be decided, but Gamez says he hopes it does. Chat lines aren't too busy yet, but the police department is trying to get the word out about the program to boost traffic. How? Through Twitter and Facebook, natch.

About the author

    Sumi Das has been covering technology since the original dot-com boom. She was hired by cable network TechTV in 1998 to produce and host a half-hour program devoted to new and future technologies. Prior to CNET, Sumi served as a Washington DC-based correspondent, covering breaking news for CNN. She reported live from New Orleans and contributed to CNN's coverage of Hurricane Katrina, which earned the network a Peabody Award. She also files in-depth tech stories for BBC News which are seen by a primarily international audience.

     

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