The coronavirus pandemic has prompted some law enforcement agencies to switch gears.
The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office for nearly two weeks has allowed residents to file some crime reports online.
“In keeping with the recommended practices during the COVID-19 pandemic the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office is developing new ways for our citizens to file crime reports,” Shelley Ward, spokeswoman for YPSO, wrote in a news release. “This will help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus and protect our citizens and deputies by limiting physical contact.”
Capt. Troy Lyons, spokesman for YSPO, said the new online reporting system is a way for residents to file certain types of reports for minor offenses such as petty theft, damage to property and other crimes. See a full list of crimes here.
“We’re doing it in response to the COVID-19 crisis that’s going on right now,” he said.
Once the resident completes the online form, it generates an email which is sent to the supervisors, Lyons said. The supervisors assign the report to a deputy who calls the complaining party to get more information, files an official report and then gives the resident the report number. You can file a crime report here.
“This is not permanent,” Lyons said, adding YPSO will go back to face to face contact with its residents. “Our goal has always been to respond to calls in person ––put a name to a face.”
Prior to online reporting, people would call the 911 center and the center would generate a report with a number, Lyons said.
When asked if YPSO would have additional deputies for the new program, Lyons said it won’t add additional workload to the sheriff’s office.
But what happens if multiple people file a report about the same crime?
The deputy would follow up and see if there was additional information or as Lyons put it, “do due diligence.”
“That very rarely ever happens,” Lyons said referring to multiple calls about the same crime.
If there are multiple witnesses to the same crime, Lyons said generally there is one initial report and a supplemental report as a opposed to multiple reports. However, if multiple people reported their credit card was stolen, then there would be a separate report for each victim.
As of April 6, the department had received five online reports from the previous week: one tampering with an automobile, one vandalism report, one credit card fraud, one petty theft and the fifth was unknown at the time.
While the YPSO is using online crime reporting during the coronavirus, other localities in the Historic Triangle don’t plan on doing something similar.
Stephanie Williams, spokeswoman for the James City County Police Department, said the department doesn’t currently have plans to provide an online reporting source for residents.
Williams said the department hasn’t found a need to. To prevent exposure for officers, she said the department is responding to reports over the phone as much as possible.
“We are responding to more calls than usual by phone,” she said. “We think it is important to maintain that personal touch when someone is a victim. The thing you can’t do with online reporting is connect folks to various resources and provide crime prevention tips.”
The Williamsburg Police Department also doesn’t have plans to start an online reporting platform, said Charles Ericsson, spokesman for the department.
Instead, the department has modified its procedures to allow as many reports to be taken over the phone as possible.
“The immediate call to us gives us the best chance to collect evidence, circulate for suspects, broadcast if other officers or community members need to be on the lookout for someone or a some item, and place our best foot forward as it relates to preventing additional instances of the crime,” he wrote in an email.
Ericsson said if the department determines an online reporting system would be beneficial, then they will reevaluate.
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