The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office launched a customized version of The Sheriff App for iPhone and Android devices. The app was developed to help sheriffs’ offices nationwide reach their citizens where they are: their smart phones.
This adaptation is no surprise to users, as WCSO under Sheriff Chody has been consistently innovative in its use of technology and social media to provide easy access to important information. App users have the ability to receive instant push notifications from the sheriff’s office, submit a tip, view the most wanted page, see a map of sex offenders in their area and more, all from their phones.
Sheriff Chody says the app has nearly 3000 users and is growing. “Today, most agencies are doing different things with technology and provide greater transparency, and we wanted to try it out. We chose this particular app because it is so much in line with the needs of a Sheriff’s department, and also what the citizens need from us. As well, we are using seized drug money to fund this program, so there is no additional cost to the taxpayer for what we believe is a value-added service.”
Sheriff Chody adds the top three uses of the app, to date, are the alerts, inmate information, and news and events listings. “Not every department has a jail and we are looking to share that information around the clock. Having online access for so many citizens has cut down dramatically on the amount of phone calls and personal inquiries our staff receive. It has freed up a lot of professional time, so our employees can focus on the primary tasks of law enforcement and administration.”
Since taking office, the Sheriff has been so successful with his social media outreach, he frequently receives citizen inquiries and requests on his personal accounts and pages about where to file reports or find a particular detective. While he is pleased people feel comfortable reaching out to him, app usage has curbed some of the personal contact, and he is able to focus on his operational responsibilities for his 500-plus workforce.
According to the Sheriff, there are also many inquiries regarding inmates; now citizens can get information at any time, and quickly. Family and friends are also able to deposit money online for loved ones who are in the jail to use at the commissary for sundries or phone time.
What you can do…
Contacts for nearly every law enforcement and municipal support agency are available under the various tabs.
- Motorists may purchase crash reports for insurance purposes.
- Direct numbers are available for detectives, corrections officers and community liaisons.
- If you have a traffic concern, you can request speeding enforcement in your neighborhood.
- Send messages to animal control or crimestoppers.
- Current/active Most Wanted lists
- County Justices of the Peace and Constables
- Crisis hotlines and Health Districts
- Bluebonnet Trails
- Lawyer referral, victim assistance
Users may also set their phone to receive alerts. Sheriff Chody says, “We are very active on Facebook when there is something of great import for the public at large. We try to be judicious with our frequency because we don’t want people to become immune. We will not report every incident, but, typically, if an accident will affect a lot of drivers on their way home, or if there is a large law enforcement presence in a part of town, we will tell people everything they need to know.”
Phone alerts will also include freeze warnings, fatality crashes, and critical missing person alerts. He adds, “We will not notify users of every crime, but if there is a sudden rash of robberies, for instance, we want people in the affected area to know as soon as possible.”
The app is fully customizable and the WCSO public information officer manages news and events of relevance to the public. The Sheriff hopes to see usage and functionality grow over time and encourages citizens to send comments and suggestions—via a link on the app of course.
“We are now able to separate the business side from the public side,” Sheriff Chody says. “The payoff to the community is that the people are being serviced better, thanks to technology. It’s a win-win for both sides, and so far, so good.”
He adds that since taking office, his goal was to be give people access where they are; on the web, social media or elsewhere, so he can say, “If you don’t know what’s happening in Williamson County, you’re not looking for it.” The department is beyond even that now-—the information is already in your hand.