The Chapel Hill Police Department launched its new online crime reporting system last week, providing Chapel Hill residents with another way to file non-emergency police reports.
The online crime reporting system can be found on the department's Police-to-Citizen website and is the newest addition to its existing Virtual Report Unit. The VRU also handles non-emergency reports by phone and in-person at the police department headquarters Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Meg McGurk, Chapel Hill community safety planner and lead creator for the online crime reporting system, said the website will be monitored by non-patrol officer staff who are trained to take non-emergency reports.
"The website is always live," she said. "You can make an online report at any time. Our VRU staff is checking it to respond."
McGurk said the online crime reporting system will make filing non-emergency reports more convenient for the community.
Non-emergency crimes that can be reported online include identity theft, damaged or stolen property, damage to or theft from a vehicle, phone scams and lost property.
“If somebody is an emergency or somebody wants or needs an officer, they should be calling 911,” McGurk said. “As you go through the criteria, you have to choose one of these specific ones, so you couldn't put in something that would require an officer response on it.”
The online crime reporting system was created in response to the recommendations made by the Reimagining Community Safety Task Force.
The task force was created by the Town in 2020 and consisted of 13 members and two alternates before it disbanded after submitting its final report in June of 2021.
“The idea came from that task force’s recommendation to focus police patrol officer response on emergencies and provide opportunities for people to make reports that are non-emergency that don't require an armed police officer to respond,” McGurk said.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Paris Miller-Foushee was a part of the task force. She said the task force allowed community members to have the hard conversation about safety and uplift the voices of historically marginalized groups.
She said that data analysis was important to the task force, as it would inform what strategies are needed to address different situations.
“Through collecting that data, it’s helping us as a community, and helping inform the community and policymakers and our crisis unit and police department on where our resources need to go,” she said.
Recent UNC graduate and Chapel Hill resident Abby McNaughton used the online crime reporting feature to report her recently stolen bicycle.
“I pretty much just went on and I filled out the details of what had happened,” she said. “Obviously, I have no idea if they're going to find the bike, but it was very simple and straightforward.”
She said she received an email response within a day of filing the report. According to the police department, a case number and final report will be emailed within three days after making the online report.
McNaughton said she appreciated the option to make a report online, as she felt nervous about speaking with staff from the police department. She said she had chained her bike in the same spot for two years, and this was the first time it had been stolen.
“For people who are more comfortable, they might prefer calling, they might feel like maybe their case is getting more attention, but I think it's very good to have an option for others,” she said.
But the online crime reporting system is just one element of improving community safety according to Miller-Foushee, who said that she believes there is still work to be done.
She said Chapel Hill will need to work collaboratively with surrounding towns when it comes to making the community safer.
“I think it's important that municipalities and jurisdictions work together when we're thinking about reimagining community safety, and so you need Carrboro, Hillsborough, all of Orange County, as well as our school system and the university to work together for our mutual benefit,” she said.
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