Calhoun County Sheriff to add texting as way to contact dispatchers

Smartphones in Calhoun County will soon be able to do more than just call 911.

The sheriff's office is going to accept text messages.{} Sheriff Larry Amerson said the technology should help victims and witnesses communicate additional information to first responders.{}Dispatchers and deputies are still testing the system, but it should be available to the public by the middle of March.

"Many people are texting and exchanging photographs and videos with their smartphones," Amerson said.

"One of the issues for law enforcement is if we can capture photos and videos of criminal acts being committed, it helps us in our response and it helps us be able to identify criminals."

A witness might not remember a license plate or a suspect description, but a camera phone can take and share an image, which can be used as evidence in a case.

"It's hard for them to argue when you say "is this not a picture of your" and it is," Amerson said.

When a person texts a message or photo to the new 10-digit phone number the sheriff's office will use for data, an alert pops up on a computer in the dispatch center.{} The dispatcher can immediately forward the information to a deputy.

Someone could also use the technology if they're in a situation where it's unsafe to make noise.{} That could be someone hiding from an intruder, avoiding a domestic violence situation, or even a kidnapping.

"Often someone will dial 911 or dial our number and they will just not speak.{} We just have to infer that there's a problem and send someone.{} But with the text capability, they can be texting us information as we go," Amerson said.

"We see it as adding one more level of capability to our dispatch function."

The sheriff said he knows there are risks of people texting inappropriate content.{} However, that type of behavior may be treated of someone making a bogus 911 call or sending a false report of a crime.

"It's actually a criminal matter and they can be prosecuted.{} We can subpoena phone records and find out who that phone belongs to," Amerson said.

A second phase of the technology will allow for emails.