Video chat with police? Redwood City cops experiment with new kind of house call

Video chat camera on a computer at the Redwood City, Calif. police headquarters
(CBS) REDWOOD CITY, Calif. - Need to talk to a cop face-to-face? In Redwood City, Calif. police are trying to make it possible without dispatching a patrol car.

It's believed to be the first police department in the country to experiment by video chatting with residents, CBS San Francisco reports.

During the 3-month trial of the software, officers already assigned to desk duty take turns on video chat desk shifts, so no patrol officers are being pulled from the street. The software is like Skype, but is actually more suited to the specific task. According to CBS San Francisco, it costs $200 per machine - a lot less than an additional patrol car or even a fresh-faced cadet.

Patrol cars still handle things that require a response in the field, but for all those calls where an officer just needs to talk to someone and give information or advice, video chatting could save lots of time and money.

So far, the Redwood City trial has been getting good traffic, but not running near capacity, CBS San Francisco reports. For most residents, it's still a new and unknown service. Police say a caller's identity is not known or recorded, unless the caller wants it to be.

Officer, can we chat?