Smartphone apps have uses ranging from checking the weather to watching movies to reading about the latest breaking news, and everything in between. Now Crow Wing County residents can download an app that lets them send crime tips to the sheriff's department and communicate with local law enforcement from anywhere while remaining anonymous.

Tip411 is a program that has been gaining popularity in the lakes area over the last eight months. After downloading the CWCS Mobile app on an iPhone or Android device, users can simply submit anonymous tips relating to any criminal or suspicious activity directly to the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office.

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And that's not all.

"The cool thing with this feature is people can still remain anonymous if they wish, but we're allowed to communicate back with them. So that's where we can add the additional questions," said Capt. Scott Goddard, of the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office.

The app allows the investigator receiving the tips to respond to the tipster and ask follow-up questions.

"They'll text us in something very vague, like, 'Vehicles coming or going late at night from a residence,'" Goddard said. "And then our follow-up questions might be, 'Well, can you give us descriptions of the vehicle?' or 'What times are the vehicles coming and going?'"

Though the smartphone app is the easiest way to send in tips, those with more basic cell phones can also use the program by texting "TIPCW" and their tip to 847411.

"We ... want to make it very simplistic for anyone who has any cell device," Goddard said.

A Crow Wing County investigator receives all the tips and contacts the relevant police department, who can then continue the original conversation.

The tipster can remain anonymous throughout the whole process.

Tip411, which is a St. Paul-based company, has been successful in the lakes area so far, though the sheriff's office is still working to spread the word.

"It hits its peaks and valleys, which we expect," Goddard said. "But it's working very well. And we're consistently getting tips. The tips that are coming in are again and again proving to be truthful and accurate and have resulted in stolen property recoveries, burglaries, drug cases, warrants."

The program, however, shouldn't be used for in-progress crimes such as active burglaries and shouldn't be a replacement for calling 911 in an emergency.

Goddard stressed that everyone should be aware of their surroundings and report anything suspicious, even if it doesn't end up relating to criminal activity.

"We don't want people not to call because they think there might be an easy answer. We're more than happy to investigate it," he said.

For more information on tip411, visit crowwing.us/1422/Submit-a-Tip.