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Tips from users of MobilePatrol app help Butler County sheriff's office track down criminals

| Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Butler County Sheriff Mike Slupe shows off their new app at the county courthouse Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. They are the first law enforcement agency in the state, outside of prisons, to use an app to show most wanted people, those who have warrants, as well as other agency tools.
Screenshot of the Butler County sheriff department home page for the Mobile Patrol app, which offers notifications of criminals being released, alerts for emergencies and other breaking information.

A mobile app used by state corrections and probation officials is now being used by the Butler County sheriff's office to warn the public about the county's most-wanted offenders and people held in the county prison.

“People here in Butler County, they thrive on wanting to help find people,” Sheriff Mike Slupe said. “They're already seeing information about fugitives in the newspaper or on television. This is another venue for people who have smartphones and iPads.”

The sheriff's department signed onto the MobilePatrol app in the last few months. Tips emailed through the app have already led to 10 arrests, Slupe said. Some arrests have been a direct result of a tip — such as the location of a fugitive — while others have steered law enforcement to information that leads to an arrest, he said.

Tips come into a department computer that is checked on a constant basis. Eventually, Slupe said he hopes to have the tips go directly to on-duty deputies through their smartphones. All tips are anonymous, he added.

“The bottom line is, you can get on there, and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. I know Joe Doe. He's wanted,' ” Slupe said.

The state Department of Corrections lists limited information about state inmates in custody, including names and ages. Spokeswoman Sue McNaughton said her agency has used the app since May.

“For today's technology, where everyone's got an iPhone, I think it's a great resource for crime victims out there to keep track of their offenders,” McNaughton said.

Information and alerts are limited, she said, so crime victims should call the state Office of Victim Advocate to register to receive full updates on a defendant, including dates of parole hearings.

The app, designed by Kentucky-based Appriss Inc., is free to users and does not cost the county any money, Slupe said. Other local users include the Allegheny, Beaver, Lawrence, Westmoreland and Washington county jails.

Some features on the Butler app include a listing of Butler County Prison inmates, their mug shots, and some identifying information, including their ages. The prison provides that information, Slupe said.

The app also ties into the Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) service, which tells victims of a crime about the custody status of the offender, whether they've been released or escaped, are being transferred elsewhere or have a court appearance. The app will automatically send information to a person who has registered.

The app can also send out automatic alerts, such as a description of an actor sought in a crime that just occurred, weather alerts or missing children notices through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The app also allows users to provide tips on crimes and traffic concerns.

Slupe said that he prefers that those with drug complaints still contact the Butler County Drug Task Force, since it's coordinated those efforts since 1996, but he added that any tips would be passed on.

Some features of the app are still being tinkered with, Slupe said. For instance, he said, within the next couple of weeks, he hopes to have photos attached to a list of outstanding warrants.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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