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updated: 6/24/2014 5:07 PM

Elgin looking at 911-Twitter combo

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The Elgin Police Department is working on getting software that would automatically send some 911 calls to Twitter.

The department signed a $10,000 contract with New World Systems, a Michigan-based company that is working on developing a way to tweet 911 calls -- mainly about traffic accidents -- via the police department's Twitter account, Deputy Chief Bill Wolf said.

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Other types of 911 calls, such as robberies or burglaries, might be tweeted with a time delay, but no decision has been made, Wolf said.

Emergency calls about sexual assaults or suicidal people would not be tweeted, to protect the privacy of the victims, Wolf said.

The software might be ready in the fall, but possibly by late 2014 or early 2015, he said.

"They haven't finished programming on it. We haven't even tested it," he said. "It's a ways away."

The project is funded by an $18,000 local justice assistance grant, police said.

Elgin is the first to sign such a contract with New World Systems, Wolf said.

"We're not aware of any departments doing this, so we're hoping this will be something unique," he said.

Wolf and police senior management analyst Kristie Hilton found out about the possibility of interfacing 911 calls with Twitter when they attended an April conference in Florida.

Hilton, who's in charge of the department's social media accounts, took the initiative to look into it, Wolf said.

"It struck me, largely because of the accidents (reports) that we push out (on Twitter and Facebook)," Hilton said. "If we had a more automated way to do that, it would be good."

The project was discussed Monday night at the police chief's monthly community meeting, where the response from the 30 or so people in attendance seemed positive, Hilton said.

The 911 calls would be sent to Twitter automatically, just as they are sent automatically to police officers' mobile computers, Wolf said.

Elgin police switched to an encrypted radio system in January, so people can't listen to police communication via scanners anymore. This would balance things out by adding transparency, he said.

"One of the things that's important to us is make sure that we're as transparent as we can," he said. "This way, we can control things, but people still have an idea of what's going on."

The police department also recently set up alerts via crimereports.com to update hourly, rather than once a day, he added.

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