Little Rock police online crime reporting system off to a solid start in first week with around 75 reports

FILE — Little Rock Police Department headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo.

Just over a week after launching an online reporting system for certain crimes, Little Rock police have logged about 75 reports, which department leaders say has helped reduce stress for patrol officers and let them focus on emergencies and crime prevention.

The system allows citizens to report 13 categories of offenses -- including breaking or entering, criminal mischief, theft, and threats or harassing communications -- online using a computer or cellphone.

The online reports are handled by Records and Support Division personnel instead of the Communications Division staff, said Maj. Heath Helton, head of the Records and Support Division.

Of the reports approved or reviewed between the system's Oct. 20 launch and Thursday, most have been theft or private property accident reports, Helton said in an email.

A person who makes a report will receive an email when the submission has been approved by police, according to an informational video on the department's Twitter account.

If a report is rejected, then the person will get an email saying what the problem was, Helton said.

Sometimes, officers may still need to respond. Reports involving lost or stolen firearms, vehicles and license plates, as well as those in which more than $5,000 worth of property was stolen or destroyed, must still be called in, the reporting site notes.

Among the 13 options the site offers is an information report for suspected criminal activity, but it notes that these reports may not be viewed for up to 48 hours and that these types of tips are filed "with no expectation of contact or follow-up."

Department staffers are "extremely happy" with the system so far, Helton said. But Helton acknowledged that like any new program or technology, community response has been mixed thus far.

[RELATED: Click here for interactive map + full coverage of crime in Little Rock »]

The online reporting system stems from the ongoing covid-19 pandemic, when the department started accepting certain reports by phone, Helton said. However, the sheer volume of calls overwhelmed the Telephone Reporting Unit, which is staffed by civilian personnel and cadets, leaving residents dissatisfied.

"Citizens became frustrated because a response was not always immediate, so we began looking more seriously into the online reporting system," Helton said.

After researching systems used by agencies nationwide, the Little Rock department found that one of the appeals of funneling nonemergency crime reports through an online system was that it did not require an officer to immediately respond, Helton said. This left officers free to focus on patrols and kept citizens from having to wait for an officer to respond, he said.

One of the goals of the system was to improve response times for important calls, Helton said, although he did not say if the agency had marked that improvement yet.

Ease of access for people filing reports was another key concern, and Helton thinks people will warm to the new reporting system.

"The more citizens use it, the more they will see it's user-friendly," he said.

The biggest issue so far has been getting the word out that the system is available to people, Helton said.

"Once citizens know they can make a simple report online, we believe they will be very receptive to doing so because of the convenience the system allows," he said.

Experience in troubleshooting the department's computer-aided dispatch and body-worn camera systems made implementing the system easier, because the staff knew what problems to expect. Most of the issues were small and easily remedied, Helton said.

No new staffers have been necessary to process the reports, with the work of processing simply shifting from one division to the other, Helton said.

Helton has already identified some other types of report that may be added to the online system, potentially including some burglaries, criminal trespass, vacation home reports and extra patrol requests.

Additionally, Helton hopes to eventually make it possible for people to file all traffic accident reports online and for the department to even hire specialized traffic safety officers to process these reports, as traffic incidents are the most time-consuming task for patrol officers outside of arrests.