A County View

A number that can save lives

Posted:  Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - 3:45pm

The number 274637 can save lives.

Our communities can be traumatized by the sudden deaths of teenagers in alcohol-related car crashes — particularly in late spring around graduation and senior prom. Some well-meaning parents, or the graduates themselves, hold parties involving alcohol. On the way home, with driving skills and reactions dulled, death or serious injury occurs.

If only someone had intervened.

Often neighbors or friends have been hesitant to call the sheriff or police, fearing social impropriety — the stigma of the whistleblower. Yet lives are at stake.

Lincoln County has been fortunate the past four years. Thanks, no doubt, to the growth of non-alcoholic graduation parties, the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety reports only one teenage alcohol-related crash (two people were killed) during 2011-14 out of 20 fatal teenage crashes statewide. (Eight persons of all ages were killed in Lincoln out of 170 fatals statewide.)

But one death, teenager or adult, is one too many.

For the past year, concerned folks in Lincoln County have been able to take preventive action anonymously.

They have been phoning in alerts by texting them to 274637 (CRIMES) or linking to www.healthylincolncounty.org, and clicking on the “LTip” icon in the upper right hand corner; “L” is for Lincoln County. (Instructions pop up for texting or emailing).

Tipsters don’t have to reveal themselves, as requested on regular 911 calls. Hence, they remain anonymous. The “tip” is automatically routed “eyes-unseen” through the county’s 911 communications network and on through a secured server in Canada where it is scrubbed of any trail identifying the sender and assigned a four-digit code. It’s then sent back to Lincoln County 911, all within fiber-optic seconds.

Operators, on duty 24/7 at the county’s 911 Communications Center in the Wiscasset Court House complex, immediately alert the sheriff or the appropriate town police (Boothbay Harbor, Damariscotta, Wiscasset or Waldoboro).

If more information is needed, like a more precise address or location, a 911 operator can instantaneously go back to the tip sender through the Canadian server, using only the four-digit code, and get answers without ever learning the tipster’s identity.

Actually, tipsters can use this system for any police intervention they deem appropriate. Examples are suspected drug trafficking, domestic or child abuse, open container violations raucous behavior in public places, even unpaid child support as well as the sale or serving of liquor to minors.

County Communications Director Tod Hartung says the county has received about two dozen tips the past 12 months, mainly involving underage drinking or sales to minors. “That was the original impetus behind the system,” which also covers Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Knox and Waldo counties, he said.

There’s virtually no cost to the county, Hartung noted.

“Our operators handle 30,000-40,000 incoming calls annually involving emergencies, fires, weather, accidents and criminal activity. Most require instant communication with first responders,” he said. “A handful more is no problem.”

Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Bracket says the tips have been useful, leading to some arrests but often just intervening before things get out of hand.

“I just wish folks would use the LTip system more often. It’s a great help. We need to get it better known throughout our communities,” Brackett said.

The Lincoln County LTip program is a cooperative effort of Healthy Lincoln County, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, the Lincoln County Communications Center and the county’s four town police departments.