Police in the District and Arlington County have added a new weapon to their arsenal of community policing: e-mail.
Residents of the two jurisdictions can receive daily notices of all crimes in their neighborhoods. Police compile the summaries, which run the gamut from auto theft to homicide, and e-mail them to CrimeReports.com. The Web site, started and maintained by Arlington resident Greg Whisenant, automatically sends notices to subscribers who are registered to receive them.
Arlington residents began receiving the crime summaries in March. D.C. police sent out their first notices July 9.
Police participation in the e-mail service is their latest effort to become technologically savvy and to get residents more directly involved in combating crime. By sending out crime alerts and notices of community meetings over the Internet, the police hope to enlist more help from ordinary people in gathering intelligence and apprehending suspects.
The D.C. police department's own Web site, launched in November, provides contact information, news of community meetings and crime data compiled by the D.C. police Tactical Crime Analysis Unit, said Kevin P. Morison, communications director for the D.C. police.
Whisenant's e-mail service "will allow us to use technology to push this information out to the community," Morison said.
District police already make raw summaries of crime incidents available to newspapers as a public service, said Sgt. Joseph C. Gentile, a police spokesman. The e-mail service will let residents receive notices daily and see summaries of crimes in their particular police district.
Whisenant started the Web site and operates it from his office in a downtown public relations firm. Whisenant, 30, had his own brush with crime in February, when he inadvertently let a burglar into his Pentagon City apartment building. The burglar stole two bicycles from the garage.
Whisenant said the incident spurred him to use his computer skills to help the police. He is incorporating the service and hopes to solicit corporate sponsorships to defray the cost of maintaining the site, which is at www.crimereports.com. He is not charging police departments or residents.
"It's giving the community wide-open access to the information the police have," he said. "These reports are not edited in any way. This is the real deal."
As of yesterday, 147 people were receiving the Arlington police notices, and 75 had subscribed for D.C. notices. In addition, Whisenant said, more than 150 people have signed up for his service in Woodstock, N.Y.; Salt Lake City; and the University of Utah at Salt Lake City, which maintains a separate police department.
Kathy Smith, a member of the D.C. police chief's Citizens Advisory Council, said she appreciates the e-mail notices for their comprehensiveness.
But James Alan Fox, professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University, said that published police log information generally has little value and that crime statistics are often misinterpreted by the public.
"I'm a big Internet fan, but this idea needs more planning," Fox said.
Capt. Thomas M. Panther, coordinator of the e-mail service for the Arlington police, said the department hopes citizens will use computers in local libraries to access the crime notices. The service is the best way to "get information to people's fingertips" about something that may be occurring "but does not rise to the level of being covered by the popular media," he said.
Searchable crime reports from all area jurisdictions are available on the Web at www.washingtonpost.com/crime.