Raleigh police will use Nextdoor social network to reach residents

The Raleigh Police Department on Wednesday announced a new partnership with the social networking company Nextdoor to share information about crime and safety with city residents.

Nextdoor is a sophisticated version of a neighborhood listserv that allows residents to interact virtually with each other. There are 331 neighborhoods in the city with their own Nextdoor accounts, and Raleigh police will use the service to tailor crime alerts and safety tips to particular parts of town.

“It will allow us to send targeted information to specific neighborhoods, to groups of neighborhoods and to sections of the city,” said Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, who announced the partnership at a news conference Wednesday.

Nextdoor limits access to people in a particular neighborhood; before joining a network, people must verify that they live within a particular geographic area, and anything posted to the site is shared only with others on the neighborhood network. Residents use Nextdoor to announce yard sales, ask for help finding a lost dog or seek recommendations for a good plumber or house painter.

It’s also a place where people go to report break-ins, vandalism or other criminal mischief. Users have told the company that it makes sense to have police share what they know about crime in their neighborhoods, too, without giving police unfettered access to the network, said Joseph Porcelli, the senior city strategist with Nextdoor.

“People said we want to hear from the people who protect and serve us, but we want to maintain the privacy of who we are and what we’re talking about,” Porcelli said.

Founded in 2010, San Francisco-based Nextdoor says more than 61,000 neighborhoods in the United States now have their own Nextdoor networks. Local governments began using Nextdoor to reach residents a few years ago, and now more than 500 police departments have signed on, Porcelli said.

Deck-Brown said her department might use Nextdoor to let residents know about a rash of car break-ins in their neighborhood and to offer advice for preventing them. She referred to the program as a “modern, virtual, neighborhood community watch.”

But police say people who see a crime should still call police to report it.

“This is in no way a substitute for 911,” said Deputy Chief J.C. Perry.

Nextdoor could become a substitute for the evening news, said Manish Lamba, an Oakwood resident and founding member of the neighborhood’s Nextdoor network in 2011.

When two men broke into a house in Oakwood and shot a man, leaving him paralyzed, in January 2013, Lamba said many of his neighbors didn’t learn about it until they saw it on TV many hours later. He said he’d rather hear about crimes like that from his neighbors and from police through Nextdoor.

“This provides more of a guarantee that I will be alerted,” said Lamba.

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Nextdoor’s business model

Like many fledgling Internet companies, Nextdoor does not currently make money. Nextdoor is free to users, and the company is funded by venture capital firms, allowing it to focus on growing and improving its product, said spokeswoman Danielle Styskal. Long term, Styskal said, the company will figure out a way to generate revenue from local businesses who want to connect with people in nearby networks.