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City, schools and agencies to unveil new communications tool to help improve community safety

The city of Merced said it will hold a news conference Friday to unveil the CitizenObserver system, a new communication tool to help agencies share information and help the public improve community safety.

CitizenObserver is a Web-based notification tool for local agencies that enables citizens to receive and respond to text, e-mail and Web alerts. The agencies using the system will be able to explain how it benefits them.

The city said Merced ComVIP – the Merced Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Task Force – took the lead on getting five local agencies to subscribe to CitizenObserver. The agencies are the Merced City School District; the Merced Union High School District; the Merced County Office of Education; the Merced County Probation Department; and the Merced Police Department.

There are two main features to CitizenObserver: A text-messaging service, and a tip line. Various text groups have been created by the agencies so that people can be alerted, depending upon the need. For example, there may only be a need to alert administrators at one school, or only in one school district, depending on the situation.

The tip line can also be set up for individual schools and also across a wide region. The Merced Union High School District will set up school-wide tip lines in the fall so students can anonymously report bullying, cheating or other problems at the individual schools.

The Merced Police Department is using the tip line feature to take anonymous tips for major crimes. Tip 411 allows a person to anonymously text in a tip to the police without disclosing his identity. The tip goes to CitizenObserver, which is prevented by law from disclosing the source, and it relays the information to the department.

To use the Tip Line a person texts Tip 411 (847411) and begins the text message with the word COMVIP. The text message will be sent anonymously to Merced Police Department.

CitizenObserver also allows people to receive alerts by text message, e-mail or both. There is no cost to receive the alerts. Alerts also are automatically posted to the police website and to the department’s Facebook page. As of today, only the Merced Police Department is using the alert feature, but the other agencies are exploring potential uses.

The Police Department plans to tie in the CitizenObserver with the Neighborhood Watch program so that individual neighborhoods will be alerted to problems as they happen.

The CitizenObserver subscription costs $3,600 a year and is split among the various agencies.