A service that allows residents to file police reports online has saved South Portland thousands of dollars and freed up officers for more work in the community, benefits that are leading other police departments to adopt the program.

South Portland residents can go online to report crimes like minor theft, car burglary and graffiti without talking to an officer. The police department started the system in May 2010 for a startup cost of $17,325, with an annual fee of $3,850 to cover maintenance, upgrades and information transfers to the department’s records system.

The city got a federal justice sssistance grant to use technology to improve efficiency.

“We’re always looking for ways to make us more efficient and effective,” said Lt. Frank Clark. “And the savings in terms of man hours allows our officers to be out there and being more pro-active and visible on the street.”

Portland signed on to the system, Desk Officer for Law Enforcement, last month, and Auburn is enrolling.

“Any time we can enhance citizens’ ability to report crime, that’s really a dual win,” said Michael Sauschuck, Portland’s acting police chief.

In South Portland, reports are still reviewed by a sergeant and assigned to a detective or patrol officer for follow-up if needed, Clark said. Some reports are rejected because they relate to incidents outside the city, including at least one that came from Portland, Ore.

The system is not for emergencies, theft of prescription drugs or guns, thefts that exceed $1,000 or other serious crimes.

Last year, 283 police reports were filed online in South Portland. Criminal mischief, car burglary and theft of less than $500 were the most common, each representing about 50 online reports. Without the system, the reports would have been taken by officers or not filed at all.

Often, residents file police reports because their insurance companies require them for claims, Clark said.

The police department estimates that each report submitted electronically saves an hour to 90 minutes of staff time, including officers and dispatchers, for a savings of about $50. Based on that calculation, the online reporting system saved the city 424.5 hours and $14,150 last year alone, Clark said.

The real benefit isn’t in cost savings, he said, but in officers directing more attention to more serious calls, addressing traffic issues and working to prevent crime.

And because the system is more convenient for residents, police may get more information.

“People who would have their car broken into, they don’t know about it until they’re already heading out to work,” Clark said. “Now they’re late and they’ll say, ‘Can I just call later? I don’t want to file a report.'”

The system also allows residents to get free copies of their incident reports, rather than paying for printed copies at the police station.

The system is provided by Coplogic, a California company. Coplogic’s chief operating officer, James Lee, said that nationally, the company has about 270 agencies signed up.