First, all calls are totally, universally, and actually free anywhere in the US and Canada. While elasticity of demand studies have certainly not been completed for this segment, there can be no argument against the proposition that more people will call a free service than one which costs money. Free from anywhere, including any pay phone, means actually and totally free. Toll free implies anonymity, even though call records are created. Perceptions are important. And with a toll free number and payphone access, any caller can virtually guarantee their anonymity if they are willing to make the effort to get to a payphone. In jurisdictions that cross county or Local Telephone Administration Area (LATA) boundaries, the toll call also produces a record that shows up on the callers own phone bill.
The Importance of Anonymity
This cannot be overemphasized. For the truly paranoid, they may choose to use a payphone and even wipe their prints for the change they use, if the tip line isn’t toll free. Each and every assault on anonymity, whether the result of subpoena or careless record keeping, can damage a program and impede a tipster’s willingness to call. Structurally, this means that any local tip line, whether fed by a toll free number or not, should be free of police/sheriff jurisdiction and/or control. But you need more, much more. The guarantee of anonymity to all callers should be a reality, not an expressed intent. With any common carrier, the records do exist and may be subpoenaed by law enforcement if they so choose. While some states offer protection from subpoena to carriers acting as an agent for a Crime Stoppers program, there is no federal exemption, and criminal defendants, through legal counsel, subpoena far more records than do law enforcement officials. As an Enhanced Service Provider, Telecompute has the same capabilities as a carrier, but operates under different rules. To start, the last 2 digits of the inbound phone number are dropped and never recorded in our switches. Further, there is never a complete call record created in the first place. All calls come in on one carrier, are terminated on our equipment (for many purposes) and then are re-originated on another carrier band to reach the final destination. In addition to not allowing a complete record to be created by any carrier, we eliminate all records after the 30 day billing cycle has been completed. (We get tens of thousands of calls daily, so matching is not a physical possibility.)
Number portability has been a reality in the US. It started with toll free portability in 1989 and local number portability was part of the Telecom Reform Act of 1996. Portability means the ability to move your number to a different location or a different carrier. So, if your local number and/or toll free number(s) were set up under a sharing arrangement with law enforcement some time ago, you may want to reconsider that arrangement.
Capacity to Answer Calls
Depending on your geographic location, you may have different options. If you use police personnel to answer calls after hours, or at any time, you may want to weigh your capacity issues against the anonymity requirement. If you have call forwarding in a rural area, the telco may still have older equipment such as a 1AESS switch which will only allow the lead or a single number to be forwarded to a second destination. If you operate in an urban or more populated area, the chances are the system has been upgraded to a 5ESS switch, which will support multiple lines of call forwarding, at no additional monthly cost, if you specifically order it. (You still pay the transport rates to send the calls, which may be substantial.) With Telecompute, the call capacity for every participating program is increased automatically and without any added costs. With our 2,000+ switch ports, virtually unlimited capacity exists at any time for calls from or to any part of the country. When compared to the limited resources of any jurisdiction and the resources they receive from the local phone company. Using the national number, operated by our company, which employs call supervision coupled with high capacity, no call at the local level goes unanswered. The capacity to receive calls is limited only by the capacity of the answering service they employ. Some programs have opted for voice mail or an answering machine after hours. No one can work 24 hours and budgets have their limits. However, one-way systems such as voicemail or an answering machine can and do reduce the number of tips given. Some callers may be fearful or have other limitations on their ability to make repeat calls. Telecompute, in co-operation with major answering services, has created a ‘starter kit’ or overflow guarantee program if we handle your tip line. For just $7.95 per month you can buy into a co-op answering service we established and funded for this purpose. If you need or use the service, you pay by the minute, only for what you actually use. You can’t buy voice mail for that price! If or when your call volumes reach a point where the traffic is substantial, you will be asked to ‘graduate’ and establish your own account. However, small programs are welcome to remain in the co-op as long as they remain small and wish to do so.
Program Features: Effectiveness vs Efficiency
Our program makes available resources that would not otherwise exist without great expense. Individualized menus, call route paths, fraud prevention, time clock monitoring and many other services designed to make the program work better for any participant, large or small, enable each program to operate more effectively and efficiently. (e.g. By separating status request calls from actual tips, any program can save money with their answering service by lowering those call counts without lessening the number of tips.) ALL of these features work with toll free numbers as well as local lines. Here are some of the specialized features we have developed for existing Crime Stoppers programs that make their programs operate more effectively at a lower cost:
- FRAUD PREVENTION: A time clock and security system that serves two functions: providing a message advising when, and only when status calls will be accepted and preventing unauthorized access to the line by prisoners. (The bill dropped from $800 to $40 in the first month)
- COST SHARING: A menu connecting to 13 separate jurisdictions, with supervision which routes unanswered calls back to the largest program, and IF no answer there, on to the answering service.
- COST CONTROL: Installing a menu to separate actual tips from status requests for after hours callers. This allowed them to afford the answering service, because charges for status requests were eliminated.
- HOAX PREVENTION: A program complained about multiple repeat calls from the same number, but was leery of jeopardizing the confidentiality pledge. We installed a ‘velocity meter’ that counts the calls from any individual number. Calls over 15 per day or 25 per week are shunted to the destination via a separate path where the validity of the call can be reconciled (after the fact) without compromising the number. Offenders can be blocked. Valid multiple callers, such as prison phones, can continue uninterrupted.
- ANONYMITY GUARANTEE: Programs have transferred their local and/or their tip line to us because they have been challenged to provide information about callers. The anonymity of your callers is guaranteed because there are no records to be subpoenaed. Complete call records linking the caller with the program or answering service simply do not exist.
- AREA SHARING: Some programs have traditionally shared a number across separate geographic boundaries. Our database which ‘maps’ the country according to the North American Numbering Plan allows this to be done at NO charge.
- COST REDUCTION: We guarantee the price we charge will be less than your current carrier, and the added features come FREE. One 35-county program had an AT&T Executive on their board, and our prices were still lower than the special pricing AT&T was giving them. Savings will vary based upon the carrier and the terms of the account, but there is NEVER an installation fee and NEVER a monthly fee.
- INCREASED CAPACITY: Programs that use a telephone company to provide ‘call forwarding’ of their calls may limit their callers to a single call path. Using ‘call supervision’ instead of call forwarding virtually as many simultaneous calls as received will be sent to their intended destination. For example, if we provide call supervision and you use an after hours answering service, as many calls as the answering service can accept will be forwarded. If they have 12 lines, as many as twelve of your callers could get through at once in response to a high profile TV ad. This service is automatic, and no action or additional cost is required for any participant who wants it.
- PROGRAM VERSATILITY: Nothing stays the same forever. Requested changes are fast and free. Immediately following hurricane Katrina, a Mississippi program asked us to route Louisiana calls to their center. Routing changes, menu changes, and more can be accomplished usually the same day.