Post Falls, Idaho, police dispatchers text with distraught woman who wouldn't pick up phone

The distraught woman messaged police this week telling them she was going to hurt herself, but she refused to pick up her phone. So dispatchers with Post Falls police used text messages — about 60 or so over the next hour — to help the woman.

Dispatchers were able to determine that she was driving around Coeur d'Alene and persuaded her to turn herself in to Coeur d'Alene police, police Communications Director Charlene Holbrook told KREM-TV in Spokane ( ).

People should still call 911 directly if they need emergency help, police said. But reporting a crime via text message is an option for those who need to use it, Holbrook said.

"The program isn't set up to get rid of 911, but we do feel it is the next wave of reporting crimes," Post Falls Police Chief Scott Haug told KHQ-TV in Spokane.

Texting is different than talking on the phone, and dispatchers were "on pins and needles" waiting for the next text to pop up, Holbrook said.

"When you're talking to someone on the phone, if they're crying you can calm them, or relate to them or have compassion," Communication Supervisor Laura Claffey told KHQ-TV. "On text-a-crime you can't read the inflection in their voice."

Police launched the new text-a-crime system in early 2013, and said at the time that they were looking for new ways to get information to solve crimes. They believe texting crime tips will catch on with young people and, hopefully, generate leads for police. The service may also benefit people who are hearing impaired.

People can email or text information to through their cellphone. A police dispatcher receives the information and will dispatch an officer if a crime is in progress.

The department often goes days without receiving any text messages, Haug said. The text it received Wednesday night was the first high-priority text message it had gotten.