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Chicago first city with citizens sending photos, videos to 911

Chicago has become the first U.S. city to allow residents calling 911 to send photos and videos of the incidents from their cell phones, officials say.

All the images are sent to the police department’s crime-prevention information center, which reviews them to see whether they should be distributed to first responders or detectives investigating the incident.

“No other city does that right now,” said Jose Santiago, executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication.

The office began accepting the images from residents in September as part of a pilot program, said Roderick Drew, spokesman for OEMC.

Call takers don’t ask the 911 callers whether they have any images because the city does not want the call takers to waste time explaining how to send a picture.

“We can reasonably assume that if a caller says they have an image that they know how to send it on their hand-held device,” Drew said.

So far, the city has received more than 40 images from callers. Most of them show property damage, such as a door that has been kicked in by burglars, Drew said.

Drew refused to release any of the photos because he said it could endanger the senders, who are either victims or witnesses.

Santiago is warning Chicagoans not to jeopardize themselves by trying to take pictures of shootings in progress or other violence. A call or text message works just as well in those situations, he said.

All the images received so far have been law-enforcement related, Drew said.

Can be used as evidence

The city’s dispatch system already scans for any surveillance cameras within 150 feet of a call. Any real-time video then gets put up on the call taker’s screen with a map.

The images from 911 callers will allow authorities to analyze emergencies more objectively, Santiago said.

They also can be used as evidence in a criminal case, he said.

“Callers have a tendency to become confused or excited during an event,” Santiago said. “Pictures don’t.”

But some city officials worry the program won’t gain much popularity, pointing to the Txt2Tip initiative that allows people to text-message tips to the police. That program never met the department’s expectations.

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