Monday, March 18, 2013
Plano tailors crime alerts to neighborhoods through social media
Residents can be connected for free with Nextdoor.com.
While the Neighborhood Crime Watch system works, it can be slow and stop completely when members of the email chain are out of town or not near a computer. To keep up with the times, Plano PD is now utilizing another tool to improve the efficiency of the system: social media.
Members of the department's crime watch unit and crime watch coordinators met last week with representatives from Nextdoor.com, a private social media site.
Moon's neighborhood has been using the site since September and he says the early results have been promising.
"We primarily communicate through email where I send an email to the block captains and they forward the email to the people in their blocks," said Moon, an area crime watch coordinator. "It works, but there is some delay and is not the best form of communication. What I see with Nextdoor is that it gives us quicker access, and it allows the community to interact with one another."
When Moon, or any other site members, receive a bulletin from Plano PD it is immediately posted to the Nextdoor Jackson site. Moon said residents have posted about suspicious people and vehicles, as well as burglaries. In addition to disseminating information about crime, the site also allows neighbors to get to know one another, Moon said.
"There are several groups that have been created on the site," he said. "One is for fans of classic street rods and another is for crafting. There is a restaurant diners club where several people get together once a month to try a certain restaurant. It has brought people of like interests together."
Neighborhoods where people know one another are typically safer since people look out for people they know personally, said Sgt. Lindy Privett of the Plano PD.
"We are for any program that advocates neighbors getting to know neighbors as long as it is safe," said Privett, the supervisor of the crime watch program. "This is another great tool because we live in a social media society. ... One man who spoke at the meeting said he now knows his neighbors because of this program. I thought that was interesting and is a sign of the times."
Privett said several recent crimes have been stopped in progress thanks to residents looking out for their neighbors and calling the police when things didn't "look" right.
"The Neighborhood Crime Watch program is about neighbors getting to know one another and supporting suspicious activity," he said. "This is a tool where we can get neighbors talking to each other and looking out for each other so things get reported to us."
Plano has 219 unique neighborhoods according to the city's GIS maps. Each of these neighborhoods is set up to have its own Nextdoor site, with its membership restricted to its residents. The information posted on the site is only viewable to members, and members can choose to share as much or as little information as they choose, said Robbie Turner, a senior city strategist with Nextdoor.
Turner said 45 percent of Plano neighborhoods already have active sites, a number she hopes will increase now that the company has partnered with Plano PD.
"We have over 9,000 neighborhoods across the U.S. and we have worked with over 100 cities to roll out citywide," Turner said. "About 20 percent of the posts on the site as a whole are people talking about crime and safety. ... For the police, when you have that many people already on, they ask why they are not using it to talk to residents. Most departments already have Facebook and Twitter so it is a natural extension for them."
The Nextdoor sites are set up to allow the police to post messages and crime watch bulletins to a neighborhood's site. However, the police cannot view other information on the site or learn the identities of the site's users.
"The police can tailor a message to an individual neighborhood," Turner said. "On Facebook they can only really post messages that are good for the whole city, whereas Nextdoor allows them to post things specific to neighborhoods directly onto the site specific to that neighborhood."
Privett said the existing crime watch system with area coordinators and block captains will remain intact, and emails will still be sent out as they always have been. Nextdoor, like the department's Facebook and Twitter sites, will simply serve as another tool for getting important information out to residents, he said.
How to connect
Membership on Nextdoor.com is free. Residents may visit the website and enter their home address to see if a site is already set up for their neighborhood. If there is no active site, the user will have the opportunity to set one up themselves and invite their neighbors to join.
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