MONROE, N.C. -- Union County 911 callers can now send texts, videos and pictures to 911 as a new way to help fight crime.

It is the first technology of its kind in action in the Unites States, officials said during the technology unveiling Monday in Monroe.

The idea is to get information and images into the hands of investigators and first responders as soon as possible.

Here s how it works:

You still have to make the 911 call, but depending upon what that call is about, you will be asked if you have any pictures, video or texts that will help.

If the answer is yes, Union County 911 will send a message to your phone.

You can use that prompt to send pictures, video and text messages to the Union County Emergency Communications Center.

The person doesn t have to remember a number, a name or an address to send these things. We will provide that, said Union County Emergency Communications Director Larry Brinker.

Those images will be sent to deputies and end up on squad car computer screens.

The system, called NexGenMultmedia Incident Retrieval System (MIRS), is expected to be used mainly
to find missing or abducted people, track down robbery suspects, find suspicious vehicles, capture the license plate of a car involved in a hit and run and provide pictures of people committing crimes, among others.

What it won't be used for is things like helping neighbors get out pictures of lost dogs.

The county sends the 911 message to cell phones so it can control the content sent back.

If people were to arbitrarily send in any sort of photo there would be no context with that photo, nobody would understand it within the 911 center and what we didn't want is to inundate the 911 centers or law enforcement with people just indiscriminately sending images and they had no idea what it related to, or they couldn't manage it, said NexGen developer and former FBI Agent Richard Shaffer.

Shaffer says the Boston Marathon bombing pointed out a security gap which needed closing. The suspects were identified through video images. Shaffer says if those images could have been transmitted immediately to a 911 center and forwarded to police within minutes, catching the culprits could have taken hours instead of days.

It just gives us another tool, another anything to help us. I don t see a down side, said Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey.

Seized drug money is paying for the new system. Officials did not provide a number but say it is not a large amount.

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