-In Redwood city, California, police officers are getting used to a new beat.
From 9 to 5 Monday through Thursday, a uniformed cop is ready to answer your questions.
So go ahead and click the link.
-We refer to it as video chat and basically what the program entails is we offer the public the opportunity to engage our officers from the comfort
of their home.
-I'm Officer Villegas with the Redwood City Police Department.
Thank you for using video chat.
How can I help you today?
-Officer Diana Villegas says that similar to Skype, the chat tool is easy to use.
Just go to the police department's website and click on the video chat now button.
-People call and they want information on traffic accidents or they're moving to Redwood City and they wanna know the crime rate of a certain area.
So what I would do is send them a link to our crimereports.com.
Callers don't have to provide their name or location.
Video chat is intended for non-emergencies but if needed the police department is always ready to dispatch an officer to assist the caller.
At a cost of 200 dollars for each computer running the video chat software, it's an inexpensive tool and the officers are typically on desk duty sometimes due to injuries.
So they're not pulled off the streets to monitor chat.
-If I can have citizens satisfy their needs
by calling in and speaking to our video chat officer and relieving an officer to go to their homes, it would really allow my officers to do more work in maybe more distressed neighborhoods.
-The program is still in the pilot stage, but the police chief hopes to make video chat available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it's attracted attention from several agencies around the country.
Although at least one observer worries about turnover if some officers aren't as comfortable with the technology.
-It could bring in some
newer age people who are very familiar with Skype and text messaging and they may fit into that very well, but when you lose dispatchers who have 20, 30, 40 years of experience, you lose that knowledge base.
-Still he says offering more ways to communicate is positive.
-Some citizens that may be bedridden or they're not able to get in a car and drive to the police station, drive to the fire station.
-Right now though, the social media room at the police station is fairly quiet receiving about a
dozen calls per week.
In Redwood City, California, I'm Sumi Das, CNET.com for CBS News.
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