Baltimore County police say a new website unveiled Thursday will allow two-way communication between the public and the department.
The website, called iWatch, allows residents to sign up for e-mail bulletins from the police department that are identical to messages sent to the media.
The site also allows residents to file complaints on non-emergency issues and tips on crimes and suspected terrorist activity.
"iWatch will make the entire county safer," said County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. "This is the kind of innovative service that will define government in the 21st century, and this is the move we're making in Baltimore County today."
Kamenetz called the program unique and said he believes it to be the first of its kind in the region.
The announcement of iWatch had been expected. Police and county technology officials talked about the project during the County Council's confirmation interviews with department heads.
Previously, county residents could send tips on crimes to the police via an e-mail address, but that account was only monitored during work hours on regular business days. The new site will be monitored 24 hours a day every day, police Chief Jim Johnson said.
Johnson called it "the platform of the future" and said more web-based tools were expected.
The website and reporting system were developed by county staff at no additional cost in the budget, said Robert Stradling, director of the county's Office of Information Technology.
County officials stressed that the site is not meant to be used instead of 911 in emergencies.
The site does not send text message crime alerts, and residents cannot yet use it to learn about crimes in their neighborhoods. Nor does the site have the ability to notify residents about crime in any particular neighborhood or take advantage of push notifications available in some smart phone applications.
Stradling said the county will still use its auto-dialer notification system to call residents in areas that are the focus of emerging crime trends.
The program also has a tracking system "behind the scenes" that allows police to track the tips and complaints internally.
Johnson said tips received over the Internet will be vetted in the same manner as those received by "telephone, old-school alerts."
"Folks, it's time to use new technology," Johnson said, adding that he does not believe the new system will increase the number of false reports.
"We are not changing the way police do their job in a sense," Kamenetz said. "We're making it more efficient and we're actually broadening the opportunities the public has to have dealings with the police department."
Since being elected in November, Kamenetz has made it clear that he intends to increase the county's use of technology to improve government efficiency.
Kamenetz announced shortly before his inauguration that he had ordered a top-to-bottom review of county government with an eye on how technology could be used to improve operations.
Kamenetz said he is reviewing a draft copy of Stradling's review and hopes to release it to the public as early as this month.
This is the second website-based tool announced under Kamenetz. The first, announced in December, allows county residents to stay abreast of plowing efforts during snowstorms.
The Howard County Police Department also allows residents to file reports on non-emergency incidents on its website.
"Ours is better," Kamenetz told reporters.
Other police departments use different technology, including social media, to interact with the public.
The Baltimore City Police Department has both a Twitter account and a Facebook page. Its website also features a crime map that allows residents to see the crimes that have been reported in their neighborhoods.
Baltimore County does not have a Twitter account or Facebook page for its police or fire departments. The county does maintain Twitter accounts for the Office of Emergency Management and its snow-removal information feed.
Those accounts are used only during emergencies, including snowstorms.
Stradling said the county is trying to develop a social media policy.