Chicago Police Commander Jonathan Lewin shows an example of a police sketch that could be displayed on some cellphones via the Nixle alert service.
Chicago was one of the first big cities to install police department cameras on its streets. Then just last week officers learned they will be getting new Tasers and more training. And now the police department is sharpening it's newest hi tech tool: your cell phone.
Through a partnership with the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, the Chicago Police Department is now part of a new system called Nixle, which gives the department the ability to send text message alerts to thousands of subscribers.
"The alerts are immediate, " said Chicago Police Commander Jonathan Lewin. "It could be anything from a high-risk missing person, to a wanted homicide offender, to a community meeting that is coming up."
Users sign up for the system by texting a ZIP Code for which they'd like alerts to the number 888 777. A reply from the service confirms the enrollment. Multiple ZIP Codes can be followed.
"We can select a city-wide alert if it's an issue that would affect all city of Chicago subscribers, or if it is a neighborhood specific alert, we can adjust the geography just to that area that we want to target, " Lewin said.
Subscribers with iPhones or other picture-enabled phones will also get mug shots and suspect sketches texted to them if they're available.
The department said this week that more than 9, 300 cell numbers have subscribed since the program quietly launched at the end of January.
Twitter was considered for the alerts, but police officials were concerned a Twitter acocunt could easily be hacked. Nixle's servers are kept at a secure, undisclosed location in Virginia.
At last week's CAPS (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) meeting on the northwest side, attendees said they hoped the texting program would get more neighbors to get involved in their community.
"This is perfect, to get people involved, and for the benefit of the neighborhood--it's involvement," said resident Patrick Syslo.
Commander Lewin said that is the main goal.
"We want to engage as many people as we can partner with. The police can't do it alone," he said.