AMHERST -- You can now reach out to Amherst Police through text messaging.

Text messages are now being accepted directly into the Amherst Police Department dispatch center for callers wanting to report tips and ask non-emergency questions.

The text line is440-988-4422.

Officials with the police department say the texting option allows the community another way to contact authorities with questions and minor concerns instead of taking the time to call in.

The Amherst Police Department answers calls for the utilities department after hours and on weekends and holidays. This amounts to 74 percent of the year and creates an increased obligation on the dispatcher during times of power outages, water main breaks and storm-related issues.

When the utilities (water, electric) go out in a neighborhood, it is not uncommon for the dispatch center to receive numerous calls at one time. Callers report the utility outage, ask when the utility will be restored and often call back to inquire how much longer before the utility is restored.

The same holds true for storm-related issues.Officials say receiving multiple calls from several residents while a dispatcher is trying to make outgoing calls to contact the utility workers to get services restored, while dealing with priority police radio traffic is very challenging. Non-emergency callers may be placed on hold for long periods of time when they only want to ask a simple question or report a minor problem.

Amherst residents, business owners and customers of Amherst utilities are strongly encouraged to text their non-emergency questions and minor concerns into the police dispatch center instead of calling.

Because citizens do not generally know when dispatchers are busy, there are several other questions and situations authorities encourage the public to text:

- What time is trick or treat, parades, Christmas tree lighting, etc.?

- What time is curfew?

- Checking to see if an accident report is completed and/or ready for release.

- Checking if a public records request is ready to be picked up.

- Citizens who are hearing and/or speech impaired.

Besides texting the dispatch center with minor questions, you may also text Amherst Police with minor concerns, information or complaints that are not an emergency.Some examples of these are:

- Minor parking complaints.

- Area utility outages.

- Traffic control devices that are not working properly.

- Storm-related damage that needs a city worker's attention (the city will determine the need for immediate attention).

- Minor safety concerns.

- Building code violations.

- Minor nuisance calls, such as barking dogs or loud music.

- Dead animals on the side of the road.

Residents are encouraged to text any of the above complaints or concerns. If it is a minor complaint where an officer is needed to respond, the dispatcher may text you back requesting more information including your name, address as if you called in. Or, if the issue you are reporting is more than minor, you may be asked to call into the dispatch desk or a dispatcher may call you.

Amherst Police sayschool-aged children are more willing to text information they would not normally report in person. Many students become aware of information and situations they do not want to tell a teacher or police officer in person even though the issue may be an important safety concern. Large posters will be placed throughout the high school and junior high school encouraging students to text the police department with tips and information.

- Student concerns.

- Drug activity tips.

- Alcohol activity tips.

- Known underage drinking parties.

- Planned fights.

- Tips on recent crimes such as thefts, vandalism and drug sales.

- Bullying.

- Concealed weapons tips.

- Concerns for others (suicidal thoughts, depression).

When you do textthe dispatch center, please give the dispatcher several minutes to respond.If you do not get a response in a reasonable amount of time, please call one of the non-emergency phone lines.

How does it work?

Amherst Police took one of their landline phone lines that was simple to remember (440-988-4422) and ported it to a cellular phone.

Each ofthe dispatch consoles has the ability to connect their computer to that cellular phone through a secured Wi-Fi connection.

When a text message comes in, it appears on the dispatcher's computer monitor.The dispatcher then uses their standard keyboard to reply to the messages as time permits.

Because all phone calls are forwarded from the cellular phone to our regular landline phones, citizens may still call 440-988-4422 and speak directly to a dispatcher.Also, the system will remind the dispatcher once every 60 seconds until they acknowledge or reply to a waiting text message.

A note of caution:

Do not text emergency situations where immediate police response is necessary. Please call 440-988-2625 or 911 if it is an emergency.

Do not textthe police dispatch center (or anyone) while driving.

Any phantom or bogus texts will be dealt with through criminal means and seizure of your electronic device as evidence will likely occur.