With the advancement of technology, police are trying to encourage the town to open one more line of communication with its residents.
It’s an app called “Nextdoor,” and it’s designed to connect neighbors and not friends. The app gives neighborhoods the ability to communicate with each other about happenings in their individual subdivisions – including neighborhood break-ins or neighborhood events. The app also allows residents to communicate with the town about services offered or local police departments about crimes. Or even ask their neighbors for a recommendation for a plumber.
“It’s like a virtual neighborhood watch,” Garner Police Sgt. Chris Adams said.
According to the app’s website, its mission is to “use the power of technology to build stronger and safer neighborhoods.”
Adams told the town council Monday that many residents in neighborhoods have already signed up. He said the police, in conjunction with the Neighborhood Improvement Program, plans to sign up and encouraged the town to create its own account as well.
“In this day and age it has become increasingly more difficult to get people to come out of their houses and actually talk face-to-face,” Adams said. “A lot of people are just doing everything via technology, so it’s a way to reach people that you may not get to.”
And it’s free.
Here’s how it works:
Every neighbor must verify their address. Each neighbor signs in with their real name. You choose where your information is shared. Your website is encrypted using a secure web address. Information shared will never show up in Google or other search engines.
Neighbors can answer fellow members’ questions, share information about crime and safety issues, recommend local businesses and services, sell, share, or give away personal items that you no longer want or need, discuss community issues and spread the word about local events.
An urgent alert feature sends a text message out to members in case of emergencies.
“We’re still trying to get traditional neighborhood watch groups started, but along with that you add this on top of it and you’ve got both going on at the same time,” Adams said. “Because some people aren’t going to come to the neighborhood watch meetings.
“So if we can at least reach them that way, we can communicate with them.”
Town manager Hardin Watkins said when he signed up for the app in his neighborhood, he was asked to put in his address. The app asked him to verify who he was by asking his mother’s maiden name and previous towns he lived in.
“Shocking how they knew stuff,” he said. “And it’s among neighbors so I can’t invite my friends to join.”
Some of the concerns among town council members were passwords getting in the hands of the wrong people outside of the neighborhood – particularly older children of parents in the neighborhood.
“I’ve seen those things happen, where everything seems to be OK, and a parent slipped up and somebody who shouldn’t have got something did, and first thing you know it’s turned in a different way,” Mayor Pro Tem Ken Marshburn said. “It could be used for the wrong purposes”
Holly Springs town government uses the app to notify residents of big events, weather-related incidents or upcoming town council meetings, said Tamara Ward, communications specialist for the town.
Ward manages the app for the town. She said the town started using the app last year.
“And it’s worked out well,” Ward said. “You can target specific areas you need to reach. You’re able to reach residents a lot better.”
“I can definitely see it having an impact on crime and safety, especially when you need to get information out quickly,” she added. “But the people you’re trying to reach have to have the app though.”
The app also limits what the government can see in particular neighborhood groups, she said. All neighborhood websites are secure and have private passwords to protect the communities.
“I hope Garner signs up for it,” Ward said. “It’s another avenue to reach residents.”
Eagle Ridge has had 19 percent of its residents sign up for the app already. Cloverdale has had 31 percent sign up; Heather Woods 32 percent; Greenbrier Apartments 14 percent; Everwood 50 percent; Lakemoor 14 percent; Tiffany Woods 19 percent; Riverbirch Townhomes 17 percent; and Bainbridge 13 percent.