The Toronto Police Service recently launched a public communications strategy called TPS Links, a text and voice message alert system designed to quickly get information out to the public across Toronto. The initiative rolled out Nov 6, and is expected to greatly enhance the way the police communicates with the public, in line with the constant evolution of communications technology.
“The police has to get on board with the rest of society as far as how we communicate,” said PC Gary Gomez. The Crime Prevention Officer for 42 Division said that a major part of society now relies on up-to-the-minute communication devices, which means that the way information is sent out to the public has to be upgraded as well.
“A lot of kids…get a cellphone and they don’t talk to anybody, they just text. Because that seems to be the way our society is going so Toronto Police has to get on board with that.”
TPS Links is an automated notification service intended to be used in communities across Toronto to send voice messages to landlines and text messages to cellphones in the event of situations such as road closures, school lockdowns, special events or to send out missing persons notifications.
The service is available to community residents and businesses by registering online at torontopolice.on.ca, or by picking up a hardcopy subscription form at a local police division.
The service is also a community alert tool, and is not specifically intended just for emergency purposes, Gomez said. Rather, it will send out general information relevant to communities from the Community Response Units of each police division, including warnings of things such as theft patterns in particular neighbourhoods.
“Maybe there’s a situation where there’s somebody running around stealing certain things from certain areas, we’d send out information to anybody affected saying, you know, watch out for where you hang your coat up, or whatever,” he said. But he added that if the need arises, the communications system could also be used for citywide emergency alerts, such as informing the public about a predator on the loose.
“It has a lot of scope, a lot of potential things that could be done eventually, but when it first opens it will just be more community information and any kind of emergency information they are able to get as well,” Gomez said.
Further use of technology in police communications with the public includes the community bulletins sent via email to subscribers, as well as a new online traffic violation reporting tool.
In the past, it was necessary for anybody wanting to report a traffic concern or dangerous traffic behaviour in their neighbourhood to come in to the police station to fill out a paper form. While this is still available, Gomez said the online form makes it easier for the public to quickly and easily report an incident from the convenience of their home or on their cellphone.
“I think people just generally do not like coming into a police station. If it’s important enough, they’ll come in, but if they have to make a choice or not, sometimes they choose not to, and those are the kind of people we would get online to do that.”