SONORA — The next time Tuolumne County residents hear sirens, they won't have to have a police scanner to know what's going on.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department has launched a Web site that gives residents online access to public safety information that includes crime rates and a daily log of incidents that is updated all day.
Department officials want residents to become more aware of emergency responses and the crime that happens around them, said Sgt. Jeff Wilson, a sheriff's spokesman.
He said becoming aware of crime trends and where incidents occur might prompt residents to give authorities information that could lead to arrests or a reduction in crime.
"It's because people want to know, and we want them to know," Wilson said. "They might have some information for us."
Police agencies in Stanislaus County want to create similar Web sites for their jurisdictions. Officials say the sites can help police agencies provide services and information online at a time when budget cuts threaten to further reduce staffing and limit resources.
Making that information more accessible and quickly posting it online, Wilson said, could reduce the number of calls to the Sheriff's Department from residents who are seeking only this type of information.
"When they hear sirens and want to know what's going on, they can get on the Web site and find out for themselves," Wilson said.
Residents can type in their address on the Web site and search for incidents that have occurred around their home that day or the past several days. They can scroll through lists of stolen vehicles, missing people and people arrested by sheriff's officials.
The Web site was launched last week, with some minor additions to be made later. Making improvements or adding other options to the site can be easily done, said Colleen Meyers of Tuolumne County's information technology department.
For instance, Meyers said the Sheriff's Department can add an option that allows residents to see information about a suspect or a suspect's vehicle that might be heading their way.
"From a technical aspect, it's going to be very easy to keep up the Web site," Meyers said.
The Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department posts a list of people in custody at the county jail and other information about the department on its Web site.
Sheriff Adam Christianson, however, hopes to launch another Web site in the next two months that will allow residents to file a police report online.
Christianson said this option will become even more necessary amid looming budget cuts.
He said deputies who are busy responding to high-priority calls won't have to be pulled away to write a report of a stolen vehicle or a burglary that occurred hours before. And residents seeking only a police report won't have to wait hours for a deputy to show up.
"It's going to be much more convenient for the public," Christianson said. "It's going to be easier to navigate and user-friendly."
He said they don't know whether they will be able to make the department's incident log available on the new Web site. The incidents could be posted on the site, but probably not daily.
"It's hard to tell how timely the Web site will be right now," because of the lack of resources needed to update the site, Christianson said.
Modesto police hopes to have a similar Web site up and running as soon as a new computer-aided dispatch system is installed, said Police Chief Mike Harden. The dispatch system serves most of the public safety agencies in the county.
"It's definitely something we would like to do," Harden said. "But spending money to create a new Web site now, then turning around and having to build a new one once the dispatch system is installed wouldn't be right."
He said authorities hope to have the new dispatch system installed by fall.
The Modesto Police Department posts on its Web site reports of vehicle and residential burglaries, but only monthly.
The department plans to quickly provide as much information as possible about crime trends with the new Web site, Harden said.
"It just lends itself to creating safer communities," Harden said about online public safety information. "This is the day and age we live in now."
The Tuolumne County sheriff's crime information Web site is http://tcsd.crimegraphics.com.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.