Calif. PD to start taking police reports via Zoom

An Oceanside Police lieutenant and part-time college instructor says one of his students came up with the idea


By Karen Kucher
The San Diego Union-Tribune

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Oceanside police Lt. Taurino Valdovinos, a part-time college instructor, knows a good idea when he hears one.

So when one of his students came up with an innovative way to help people better communicate with police agencies during the pandemic, he passed it along to his colleagues.

This week, the Oceanside Police Department added a button onto its website so people are able to file police reports via Zoom. Previously, such reports could only be made in person or over the phone.

Valdovinos teaches in the online masters program in law enforcement and public safety leadership at the University of San Diego. Last fall, he asked students in his "Communication Skills for Law Enforcement Leaders" course to come up with ideas on how to better serve community members in an era of social distancing and social unrest.

Many of his students' papers explored how departments could expand the use of YouTube and hire employees to better use social media to reach out to community members. But one of Valdovinos' students, a Jacksonville, Fla. sheriff's deputy named Benjamin McEwan, suggested departments use the video-conferencing platform Zoom to take police reports.

Valdovinos said McEwan's idea — which allows residents to talk directly with a police officer over a video call — seemed like an excellent way to improve communication during this time. "COVID isn't going to go away so we have to adjust to social distancing and those kinds of things," he said.

The lieutenant brought the idea to his workplace. After reserving an account with Zoom, establishing procedures on how the process would work and training staff, the department added a button onto its website last week.

Oceanside Police Department spokesman Tom Bussey said the initiative is designed to better serve people who don't want to come into the department because of the pandemic, but who still want a face-to-face experience rather than phoning it in.

"It just helps if there are additional questions and we get to see who you are and you get to see who we are," Bussey said. "I think it is more community friendly."

McEwan — who got an A for the assignment — said he got the idea after seeing criminal courts in his county using Zoom for remote hearings. He has since completed his masters degree in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership.

McEwan said he's excited to hear Oceanside is trying out his idea — and he might suggest his department also implement it.

"I am very excited about Lt. Valdovinos suggesting and putting in the hard work to have it implemented in Oceanside." he said in an email. "I hope the idea is a success and greatly benefits their department and citizens."

People interested in filing a Zoom crime report can find the link on the Oceanside Police Department site at https://www.ci.oceanside.ca.us/gov/police/crimereport.asp.

The incident being reported must have occurred within the city limits of Oceanside, excluding areas that are under the California Highway Patrol jurisdiction such as state Route 78 or Interstate 5. People who click on the link get to set up the time they want a Zoom meeting and someone in the department will send a link for the conference.

Reports of such things as thefts and harassing phone calls — anything the department would take over the counter — can be made via Zoom. There are exceptions, though. Stolen vehicle or identity theft reports must be made in person because officers need to verify certain documents for those kinds of cases, Valdovinos said.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

(c)2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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