updated 9/9/2008 6:57:19 PM ET 2008-09-09T22:57:19

It's a new era for tipsters as officials announced Tuesday that city hot lines are now able to receive photos and video from computers and cell phones.

Callers to the city's 911 and non-emergency 311 lines will now be able to send in photos and video to report crimes and complain about quality-of-life problems like uncollected garbage.

While hundreds of cities accept text messages to emergency hot lines, New York is believed to be the first with the capability to accept images, officials said.

By next year, photos sent by bystanders will be made available to patrol cars, and pictures could even be used as evidence in prosecutions, officials said.

"This technology should put a scare into every would-be criminal, because the chances of getting caught in the act is now better than ever," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

He stressed, however, that the most important thing to do first when something bad happens is still to call 911.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said major improvements to technology within the department in the past six years have helped reduced crime, which is down more than 3 percent so far this year from last year.

More than 12,000 new computers have been installed in precincts around the city, technology in radio cars has been improved and the department is better able to share information.

"When I returned to the department in 2002, I saw that very little had changed as far as technology. We were still one of the world's leading users of carbon paper and Wite-Out. But that's changed significantly," he said.

It took about 18 months to develop the image software, which cost about $250,000, city officials said.

The 911 operators will still function as emergency dispatchers, officials said. If the caller says that video or photos are available, a detective with the New York Police Department's Real Time Crime Center will call back to receive the images. The caller can ask to submit the material anonymously.

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