In this digital age, police work is just not what it used to be. Residents can now receive warnings about crimes in their areas via text messages on their cell phones, and in some cities they can send anonymous tips to police in the same way.

In October, the District of Columbia Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency and Washington's Metropolitan Police Department launched DC Police Alert, a system using software from Arlington, Va.-based Roam Secure that allows police to rapidly send crime alert text messages to subscribers' cell phones and other devices. "This is part of a collaborative effort to proactively engage the community by giving them real-time information about what is happening in their neighborhood," Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said in a statement.

Text message emergency alert services are becoming very common, says John Firman, director of research for the Alexandria, Va.-based International Chiefs of Police Association. The point is to get information effectively to a large number of people, he says.

Also, several agencies, such as the Daytona Beach, Fla., Police Department, have begun accepting anonymous tips via text. Residents simply send text messages to CRIMES, and the messages are routed through an encripter in Canada so they cannot be traced.

However, technology tools can only fill out the law enforcement toolkit; they cannot replace good police work, Firman says. "But, all this technology comes together to make the police more efficient and to give them a better relationship with the community," he says.

Texting Lingo

Some text message abbreviations that police might see:

5-o: Police

20: Location

411: Information

420: Marijuana use

ppl: People