Like many ideas, this one came from a seminar.
“Hey, Steve,” Rock Hill Police Major Steve Parker recalled Mikki Rentschler of the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau saying. “There’s this website and it sounds awesome. You might want to think about doing that.”
Two months ago today, the Rock Hill Police Department and York County Sheriff’s Office launched a new program designed to create a virtual neighborhood watch program with area hotels and motels.
Now, law enforcement behind the program, as well the hospitality industry, say it’s starting to pay off.
The system, dubbed Rock Hill-York County CONNECT (or Community Oriented Notification Network Enforcement Communication Technology), links law enforcement with the hotel and motel managers as a way to share information about suspicious activities that could lead to criminals operating in and around York County inns.
“It’s all about relationships,” Parker said. “The first thing we’re trying to do is build trust…we want the hotels to trust us so that they’re relying upon us to give information they might not have given in the past.”
Parker said the program — paired with the increased level of cooperation — has led to three solved felony crimes in the last 60 days. And any solved crime, he says, is worth the effort.
Ryan Tilden manages the TownPlace Suites on Tabor Drive in Rock Hill, and says the program allows him to alert staff to guests who might bring problems to his hotel.
“I’ll get an e-mail notification that there’s a suspect and I’ll post that suspect’s photo in the back office,” Tilden said. “My employees know if they see that suspect then they’re to call 911 right away.”
All 141 of Parker’s sworn officers have completed training to use the system, as have 60 percent of hotel operators in York County.
Parker said a major tenet of the system is the trust that is built between law enforcement and the hotel industry; trust in that information in the system will remain secure — out of the public eye and protecting the reputation of the hotel — while police investigate suspicious activity.
The site is monitored by his officers 24/7, and unsubstantiated rumors, Parker said, are removed.
“As hoteliers, it’s nice to know what’s going on in the area,” Tilden said. “It’s giving us an edge on who the criminals are before they come to our business.”
Parker said any solved crime credited to the system is worth the effort.
The CONNECT program first debuted in Albuquerque, N.M., and is used in a handful of cities across the country. Parker said York County is the first in South Carolina and the first in the southeast to adopt the program.
Quarterly meetings with the system’s users are scheduled in the future, and will run much like neighborhood watch meetings. They will take place, appropriately, at one of the hotels involved in the program.
Access to the site, as of now, is restricted to law enforcement personnel and the hotel and motel operators who have completed the course.
In the next eight to ten months, access will be extended to apartment managers in a similar fashion. In the future, access will be extended to businesses across the county.
“We’re walking before we run,” Parker said. “There are 72,000 people living in Rock Hill and there are 141 officers…I can’t meet each and every person. But if I can find a tool or an avenue to better communicate with the citizens of Rock Hill, I’m going to do that.”