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Suffolk police set up system to file reports by phone

Suffolk Police Officer David Belli demonstrates the department's

Suffolk Police Officer David Belli demonstrates the department's new Tele-Serve hotline, which allows residents to call in minor crimes or non-emergency to Yaphank headquarters. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Suffolk County residents can now make a phone call to document a minor crime or nonemergency incident — and they may be able to make such reports online in the future, police said Wednesday.

Residents can still get an officer to respond if they wish, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said, but the goal is to free officers for patrol and to respond more rapidly to serious incidents.

Sini cited a hypothetical case in which a mailbox is vandalized overnight. The homeowner wants to report it to police, but must leave for work and doesn’t want to wait a half-hour for an officer, he said.

Other incidents could include lost property and past instances of car crashes with no injuries, harassment and petty larceny. The program will provide residents with a police report number for insurance claims.

The program began April 26 and has resulted in 301 cases so far being handled by telephone, he said. During that two-week period, Sini said, there has been “a 71 percent reduction in calls where our response time is over a half-hour.”

The program “will better serve our police officers and better serve the residents of Suffolk County,” Sini said at a news conference.

Officers on restricted duty will handle calls that are referred by 911 operators to the new Tele-Serve, or T-Serve, unit between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., seven days a week.

“Essentially, when you call 911 you’re going to describe your circumstance, and we’re going to tell you about the program,” he said. “There may be instances where a person wants to utilize the program, but it is not an appropriate circumstance to do so, and we’ll provide that guidance.”

The service may later be expanded to allow reports online, he said.

“This is a good thing because it allows us to keep police officers on the street, patrolling the neighborhoods, doing traffic enforcement, doing hot-spot policing, solving crimes, as opposed to responding to nonemergency 911 calls that can be handled over the phone,” Sini said.

The new service “is optional so residents will still be able to request a police officer to respond,” he added.

County residents can also report both criminal and noncriminal incidents — ranging from lost or stolen belongings and car crashes with no injuries to identity theft and vandalism — that do not require a face-to-face meeting with a police officer by calling 631-852-COPS (2677).

Sini said the initiative was started at the suggestion of Suffolk County Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore).

Cilmi said he got the idea during a discussion at a civic meeting last year.

The chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), said she had gotten complaints from residents about the wait time for police officers on nonemergency calls.

“This is definitely a good way to relieve sector cars from having to handle things that can be done by phone,” Browning said.

The Nassau County Police Department did not return telephone calls and emails about its policy on reporting minor, nonemergency incidents.

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