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Notification system used for crime alerts

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

College Park police have begun using an old tool in a new way: The city's Internet-based notification system is now being used to alert citizens to be on the lookout for criminal suspects.

"We're expanding the CodeRed Notification System," said Police Chief Gary Yandura. "We're starting to use it for police services and not just notifications."

The CodeRed system -- an Internet-based version of the Reverse 911 phone system -- has been in place for two years. The city of College Park has used it to alert citizens to hazardous material spills and water main breaks. Police thought, though, that the system could also be used to put out alerts about suspected criminals.

Last month, the department put together a list of hotel phone numbers, managers' cell phones and desk numbers, and put them into the CodeRed system.

"A lot of times, if you have a robbery at one hotel, you get another robbery at another hotel," Yandura said. "Strategically, we saw the need to establish a call list for College Park hotels, their general managers and security."

On Nov. 21, there was an armed robbery attempt at the Days Inn on Phoenix Boulevard, and police used the CodeRed system to call all the phone numbers, "providing them with a description of the suspect in less than a minute," Yandura said.

Police officials logged into the system, online, and selected the appropriate call list. They then called in a number, and received an access code and recorded the alert message. Going back to the web site, they punched in the access code number, and the calls were made. The system is able to call 60,000 numbers in an hour, and reached all of the hotel phones in less than a minute, Yandura said.

Terry Zwirn, general manager of the Comfort Inn and Suites Airport North, praised the city for its use of the CodeRed.

"This system works great," Zwirn said. "It not only called my cell phone, but called the hotel switchboard and the clerks had the information before I had it."

City Spokesman Gerald Walker said the idea is to increase communication and public awareness.

"It's like the government putting out a different color code for terrorist alerts," Walker said. "It gives everybody an alert to kind of keep their eyes and ears open. It's just good communication ... The system is direct, instantaneous, and about to reach a mass amount of citizens in a short amount of time."

The system has been used by some Florida police departments, Yandura said, with some success. Calls can be made, through CodeRed, to the whole city, a call list, or an area designated on an online map.

The city is looking to make another call list for all businesses, sometime soon.