The city of Columbus has rolled out two new features of its SeeClickFix program just in time for the holidays.
“Vacation Home Watch” and “Close Patrol” both allow users to send information directly to Columbus Police Department through the online program. The home watch feature lets residents request police go by their homes while the residents are on vacation, and Close Patrol allows citizens to send police tips about suspicious activity.
Columbus Police Chief Fred Shelton said the two features are “non traditional” ways for police and the community to interact.
“This is going to be another way for the community to connect with the police department by giving us information that’s real time and that’s confidential,” he said.
SeeClickFix is a website that local governments can sign up for and take information from citizens on issues throughout the community, such as lights that have gone out, tree limbs or other debris in roads and overflowing storm drains. Since Columbus joined about two weeks ago, the city has received more than 100 requests, City Information Officer Joe Dillon said.
It costs the city $8,568 per year to use SeeClickFix.
The home watch and patrol features are the two newest features the city has added, and unlike the other issues citizens can report, they will be private, meaning other citizens cannot log on to the website and see the requests.
Those planning a trip can go online to Columbus’ SeeClickFix page, scroll down to Vacation Home Watch and enter information about the dates and times of departure and return, whether there will be vehicles parked in the driveway while they’re gone, which lights will be left on, whether there is a dog on the premises, whether the home has an alarm system and whether someone will be coming daily to sort mail and feed pets. Residents can also upload a photograph of their home.
Cpl. Eric Lewis said officers will check on the house daily while the residents are away, and the information provided through home watch will let them know what to look for.
“We walk around the whole (perimeter of the) house,” he added. “We usually check the doors — because all your doors are going to be locked — make sure your windows are not busted, make sure nothing’s out of place.”
CPD has always had a vacation home watch system, Lewis and Shelton said, but residents had to fill out a form at the police department to participate, resulting in only a handful of people using the system at a time. Shelton said he hopes more people will use the feature online.
He said he envisions citizens using “Close Patrol” to report people walking around neighborhoods in the middle of the night or suspicious, unfamiliar vehicles that appear to be casing a street. Citizens can submit those tips anonymously if they choose.
In addition to letting officers know what they might need to patrol, it gives investigators a record of activities going on in certain areas.
“If we had several burglaries in this area and we’ve got these responses here, that can start helping us develop a suspect,” Shelton said.
Authorities stressed they do not want the new feature to replace people calling 911 in an emergency.
“Sometimes people don’t want to call 911 because they say it’s not an emergency, but it’s just something they want us to be aware of,” Shelton said. “They don’t want to talk to an officer, they just want to put the information out there. We want to allow them a venue to express that.”