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Nextdoor.com hailed as social media connection for city residents to communicate with police

Buffalo residents now have an online home where they can discuss neighborhood safety concerns with one another and with city police officers, offering the prospect of quick police response when warranted.

Nextdoor.com allows residents to privately communicate with one another, set up their own virtual neighborhood bulletin board and contact the police when they spot something suspicious, according to Mayor Byron W. Brown and Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, who Thursday outlined details of the latest social media tool to enhance ties with citizens.

“In Sacramento, this tool is credited with a double-digit reduction in crime,” Brown said, adding that Nextdoor is in use in 53,000 neighborhoods in 160 cities across the country.

And it is already catching on in Buffalo.

Since Brown first mentioned the introduction of the social network last week at his State of City address, about 2,000 residents in 30 of the city’s 40 designated neighborhoods have registered to participate in the free service.

A direct link to police is not the only benefit, the mayor added. The online service allows residents to spread the word on community events, contact other city departments with concerns and even put the word out if a pet is missing.

Conversely, city departments will be able to notify citizens when, for example, snowplows will be focusing on a specific neighborhood.

And when it comes to crime, the police will be able to inform residents by way of emails and alerts from downloaded apps to be on the lookout when a suspect has been identified as responsible for committing crimes in a specific neighborhood.

“If a particular neighborhood is experiencing a rash of car break-ins, we can send out an alert and a photo of the suspect,” said Lt. Jeffrey D. Rinaldo, who is overseeing the implementation of Nextdoor. And, he said, there is a verification system to make sure citizens who want to participate are who they say they are.

“When you register at Nextdoor.com, the site checks through public documents to verify your identity,” Rinaldo said. “If that does not work, a postcard is sent to the resident with a verification code that has to be typed in to register. There’s no anonymity here.”

But email exchanges between neighbors are private and not monitored by police, Derenda said, although police can communicate with neighbors individually, in an entire neighborhood, police district or citywide when necessary.

Emails sent to the Police Department, he said, are monitored on a “24/7” basis.

“When we can communicate with our citizens, it helps us to do our job,” Derenda said. “This creates virtual neighborhood watch groups.”

The commissioner also stressed that Nextdoor is not designed to replace 911 and that residents should continue to call that number in emergencies.

Noting that overall crime in the city has decreased by 25 percent since 2005, Brown and Derenda said that Nextdoor joins other outreach efforts aimed at strengthening ties with the community. These include monthly meetings with residents in each of the city’s five police districts; the 311 telephone line for nonemergencies; the confidential tip line, 847-2255, which can also be texted; and the Buffalo Police Department Facebook page and Twitter account, @BPDAlerts.

email: lmichel@buffnews.com