CodeBaby ‘Virtual Officer’ featured in Reno Gazette Journal!

February 22, 2012

Reno police use virtual officer to help public with online case reporting

Police say she will help reduce error and enhance customer service

For the hundreds of frustrated people whose online reports of non-emergency crimes to the Reno Police Department get rejected for error, there’s someone new who can help.

Her name is Virtual Officer. She is a digital, interactive character who can be found on the lower right hand corner when you go to the department’s web site. All you have to do is click on her to have a personal navigator through the online reporting process, or through other police issues on the site.

Lt. Mohammad Rafaqat said the program launched last week as an effort to creatively manage the continued shortage of officers due to budget cuts and the collapsed economy.

The goal of CodeBaby’s Virtual Officer is to reduce rejected reports and staff hours and increase convenience to residents. CodeBaby is a company in Colorado Springs, Colo., that provides self-help web enhancements through digital characters who speak. Rafaqat said RPD is one of the few departments in the country to use the software.

Last year, roughly 1,500 online reports were rejected, out of more than 7,500 filed through the Internet, according to the department. In 2010, around 750 were rejected out of nearly 5,900 filed.

Rafaqat said most reports are denied because they do not occur within Reno police’s jurisdiction or that they are serious and require an in-person report being made.

He said the program has an address verification system so people know if they indeed are reporting to the right law enforcement agency. If the incident occurred outside of RPD’s boundaries, a link is given to the correct agency’s on-line reporting site.

Rafaqat said when a person finishes a report, there’s an online video to explains what happens next. He said this will answer questions and will prevent “unrealistic expectations,” such as thinking a detective will call them immediately.

Online reporting is used to report to police minor crimes, such as non-injury accidents, graffiti and vandalism.

Virtual Officer will also help residents ask the department questions, assist them to file anonymous tips, and lead them to specific issues on the site, such as recruiting. People can also leave tips about traffic issues or drug activity.

If users don’t want to use Virtual Cop, she can be disabled. Or simply don’t click on her “help” button.

“The benefits for the community and the department is that it really streamlines the online reporting process,” Rafaqat said. “We want to reduce the error rate and make it easier to do in the convenience of your home or on a laptop.”

The benefit to reporting minor crimes online is that residents do not have to wait for a community services officer to be freed up to take their report at the police station.

Rafaqat added that for emergencies people need to call 911. He said the program saves money by saving staffing costs to process reports with errors.

A Spanish-speaking Virtual Officer will be launched in March.

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