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Towns roll out text-a-tip to combat underage drinking

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Towns roll out text-a-tip to combat underage drinking

FALMOUTH — In an effort to curb drinking by young people, six area towns are participating in a new text-a-tip program.

The program, organized by Casco Bay Create Awareness Now and paid for by a grant, allows people to text, go online, or use a smart-phone app to let police know about underage drinking parties.

"We hosted information sessions with (parent teacher organizations) at schools," said Casco Bay CAN Community Director Beth Blakeman-Pohl, "and what kept coming back to us was that they wanted an anonymous tip line."

Blakeman-Pohl said one parent even told her about a high school student who told school officials about an upcoming party and was so harassed by fellow students after the fact that the family considered moving.

"So we asked, would you use this (text-a-tip) and parents said yes," Blakeman-Pohl said.

The participating towns are Falmouth, Cumberland, Freeport, Yarmouth, North Yarmouth and Pownal. The Falmouth Police Department is the regional dispatch center for the program; training and overtime will be paid for by the grant.

"We will divert the information through the Web to our dispatch center. The dispatch will look at it and determine where it goes, then send it to the contact person there's who's available right now," Falmouth Lt. John Kilbride said.

Kilbride said there is no way for the dispatchers to trace the tips, since they come in via a website, not a telephone call.

As for the possibility young people might use this for retribution or to harass each other, Kilbride said the dispatchers and departments are already careful about checking on tips and weeding out those that are suspicious.

"It's information, not probable cause," he said. "We can't use this to go get a warrant."

Kilbride said he hopes the program will allow police departments to stop parties before they start.

"Any time I can stop a party, my officers don't have to go out, no one gets hurt, it's better," he said.

By next week, all the towns should have links to the tip website on their own websites. Tipsters can also go to cascobaycan.org or download the free Tipsubmit Mobile app for iPhones, iPods and Android smart phones.

To send a tip, text the word UCANTIP and your tip to 274637.

"We don't expect a lot, but anything that can help a family know that someone in their home a is planning a party before it starts, is good," Blakeman-Pohl said.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.