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Police cell phones prove worth

March 22, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

HANCOCK - The Hancock Police Department's innovative Crime Call cellular phone system is little more than a week old but already has proven its worth, according to Chief Donald Gossage.

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When about 150 people were stranded in the town after being detoured around a 36-vehicle pileup on Interstate 70 during March 14's snowstorm, Hancock police officers used their cell phones to keep in contact throughout the day.

Officers were forced to use private four-wheel drive vehicles because of the weather, and the distance from the radio receivers made the walkie talkies' reception poor, Gossage said.

So he and his officers used the cell phones to keep in touch. "They really came in handy," he said.

The chief said the phones were used when police were called to disabled cars and to organize a temporary shelter set up at the Hancock Middle/Senior High School gym.

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The police department started the cellular phone system March 10 to improve communications among police officers and allow people greater access to the force.

The program works by allowing residents to call 301-331-0911, which puts them in direct contact with a town police officer. This lets them bypass the county dispatcher for nonemergency calls.

Since the Hancock department began using cell phones, it has been receiving about five calls from residents a day, according to Sgt. Shawn Tasker.

"It's made things a lot easier," he said.

Gossage said they received four calls to the number its first day of operation. One call was made while a domestic dispute was in progress, he said.

The officer equipped with the cellular phone was nearby and able to reach the scene as one of the parties involved was leaving.

"This allowed us to talk to both people and get both sides of the story," he said.

The phones were also helpful during an underage drinking sting, Gossage said. By using the phones instead of broadcasting information via the scanner, they were able to apprehend one alleged underage alcohol purchaser, he said.

Because "every liquor store in the area has a scanner," police were able to keep their movements secret, he said.

Public response to the new cellular phone system has been positive, he said.

Longtime Hancock resident Tom Donegan said he also supports the use of cellular phones.

Jackie Flowers, who works daily at Petal's & Bows, 83 W. Main St., said she thinks "it's a great idea."

She said she likes the idea of having direct contact with police for nonemergency calls.

Resident Janice McCarty said she has never before had an occasion to call the police but feels comforted knowing she can easily do so with Crime Call.

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