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When Silence Kills: Chicago's TXT2TIP
By: Jeff Louis
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Chicago is known for its professional sports teams, political shenanigans, architecture, the Chicago Fire, the Willis Tower, pizza and, unfortunately, its crime rate, which often skyrockets to bestow the sad distinction of murder capital of the U.S. upon the city.

Like many big cities, Chicago is plagued by gangs, causing high murder statistics for a youthful population. The code of street justice, often depicted in movies and television, is a reality here: Don’t talk to the cops, or you’ll face street justice. Thus, when crimes occur, witnesses simply don’t speak to authorities; they simply disappear into the crowd, leaving the police without motives, leads, or any other means to solve a crime. Silence is safety.

However, Chicago also has a high-tech, totally anonymous Short Message Service (SMS) text “tip line” of which the majority of the population seems to have little knowledge. Called TXT2TIP, the program was initiated in September 2008, yet no one seems to know much about it. In my own informal survey, I asked 10 people if they’d heard of the service, and one knew of its existence. She did not, however, know how to text the information regarding crime or where to send it.

The numbers for the program are dismal. In February, a Medill Reports article reported a whopping 36 texts in six months, some of which were hoaxes. In July 2009,  a poster was distributed touting the program’s "success," listing a whopping four arrests. Up-to-date information doesn’t seem to be available, possibly because no one knows of the program's existence. As a comparison, a similar program launched in Boston reported nearly 700 messages during its first year of operation.

Do Bostonians feel safer reporting crimes by text or are they simply less fearful of street justice? Neither. The problem is the Chicago program hasn’t been marketed. Other than of couple press releases, the aforementioned items, a brochure, and a flyer, no push has been made to provide the public with information. J.R. Davis, the acting director of Chicago’s Crime Commission believes the service would experience success were it marketed aggressively.

“There is a connection between marketing and volume [of text messages].”

Now comes a shocker: While Boston launched their anonymous text service with a comprehensive media campaign, Chicago kicked theirs off with a press conference and public announcements in 10 high schools (probably over a garbled public-address system too difficult to decipher).

No wonder the program’s a failure. It shouldn't be. First off, anonymity is guaranteed. Second, many of the unsolved cases offer rewards. Third, more people were killed in Chicago in 2008 than soldiers killed in Iraq. But these points don't seem to garner any media coverage. Every single morning, rather than running responsible public-service announcements, the local NBC affiliate reports funny YouTube sightings and baby birthdays.

While violence separates these communities, they're still strongly tied together, which is part of the reason local police have trouble digging up information. In fact, research shows nearly 40% of murder victims either personally know, or know of, their killer. What happens in the 'hood stays in the 'hood -- or else.

Silence seems to be killing us in more ways than one.


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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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