Riders of Capital Area Transit System buses can expect to see new signs encouraging them to report crimes via video chat to officers with the Baton Rouge Police Department. 

Officials announced the partnership at a press conference Thursday morning outside the CATS Florida Street terminal, saying it will help the department be more visible and accessible while practicing social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The signs will appear soon in 100 buses and at 150 bus stops. They include a QR code, which allows people to use their smartphone cameras to be connected directly to video chat with a BRPD officer in the department's relatively new telephone reporting unit. People can also call the BRPD non-emergency number.

The telephone reporting unit, which is staffed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., was launched several months ago at BRPD headquarters. Officers assigned to the unit include those on desk duty for disciplinary or medical reasons. 

The purpose is to make officers more accessible over the phone and save them the time and resources needed to respond in person to take down reports of minor crimes. Creating the unit was one of several recommendations presented in an efficiency study the department commissioned in 2019. 

Officials said Thursday that they hope the new CATS partnership will increase awareness of the new program.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome called it "a big step for public safety" while BRPD Chief Murphy Paul said this demonstrates how law enforcement agencies can use technology to allocate limited resources where they're most needed. Paul said the unit has received 9,500 calls for service since it was launched, which "translates to thousands of man hours."

"This is a great day for our city," said CATS CEO Bill Deville.

Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.