Amtrak police launch nationwide text tip line

October 16, 2013

Law enforcement officials constantly urge the public to warn them of any suspicious activity, and now Amtrak police are offering their riders a new communications tool to do just that.

On Wednesday, Amtrak police officials are launching a nationwide tip line, Txt-A-Tip, for rail passengers and employees to report crimes, suspicious activity, emergencies and even trespassing. Smartphone users can send a text message to APD11 and standard cell phone users can text to 27311 to report incidents, and the sender will be connected to a live Amtrak police communications officer.

Amtrak police will then notify either their own officers, rail staff or local police agencies across the 46 states where trains operate. The texting tip line will not replace the existing phone line, 1-800-331-0008.

“From crime to terrorism, we think this is a pretty effective tool,” Amtrak Police Chief Polly Hanson said in an interview.

Officials have spent several months coordinating with more than 20 cell phone carriers to develop a service that can be used as trains travel regionally, Hanson said. The hope is an increased number of eyes and ears that can help Amtrak officers patrol the rails, stations and other facilities.

The service was borne from an idea to help find better ways for deaf and hearing impaired passengers to be able to better communicate with rail officers, she said. However, police decided that as more riders use text messaging as a primary method of communication, they are rolling out a campaign to urge all riders to text their tips.

Police already handle hundreds of calls nationally each day and officials hope the service will buffet the information they will receive. Officials believe text messaging will offer many riders more safe means of reporting disorderly, criminal or suspicious behavior.

“If there is some reason you don’t feel comfortable calling, you can discretely text,” Hanson said.

Increasingly police investigate theft of copper wire and other material along tracks, in addition to reports of unattended luggage or potential terrorist threats.

“Criminals or terrorists engage in a lot of surveillance. We also want to know about people trespassing. And when bags are unattended, we want to know about it,” Hanson said.

Clarence Williams is the night police reporter for The Washington Post and has spent the better part of 13 years standing next to crime scene tape, riding in police cars or waking officials in the middle of night to gather information about breaking news in and around Washington.
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