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How law enforcement is using Nextdoor to connect with community
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Gainesville Police Cpl. Jessica Van uses the Nextdoor website Thursday, July 12, 2018, at the Gainesville Police Department. The Hall County Sheriff's Office and Gainesville Police Department are both increasing their presence on the social media platform, which allows them to post updates targeting specific parts of their jurisdictions. - photo by Scott Rogers

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office and the Gainesville Police Department are already active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but now they are engaging the community on Nextdoor, a social media platform that focuses on more localized neighborhoods.

Nextdoor, which was founded in 2010, asks users to verify their addresses to ensure they are receiving information most relevant to them based on where they live. Residents on the platform communicate with each other about neighborhood events or questions they have about the community. Organizations such as police and fire departments can also register as public agencies to reach out to people in their jurisdictions.

The sheriff’s office had a Nextdoor account in the past, but until July 3 had not posted since November and had not been using the page consistently since April 2017. Now, the sheriff’s office plans to use the platform more. The Gainesville Police Department has opened an account with Nextdoor within the past month.

Cpl. Jessica Van, who works with the Gainesville Police Department’s community relations unit, said using Nextdoor will help the department reach people online they may not have much contact with otherwise.

Nextdoor actually reached out to Gainesville Police suggesting the department make an account because of the involvement of city residents on the site, Van said.

“We’re just trying to expand our social media platforms, and that way we can reach a bigger crowd. Not everybody uses Facebook and Instagram,” Van said. “I noticed that a lot of people on Nextdoor, they purposely choose not to use Facebook or Instagram because they don’t like that type of platform. … (Nextdoor) is another social media, but it’s more catered towards your neighbors.”

When a public agency creates a Nextdoor account, all residents within the jurisdiction who use the site will automatically be subscribed to the agency’s updates. The agency can post updates to the whole jurisdiction, to service areas such as a city zone, or to specific neighborhood groups created by residents, according to the Nextdoor website.

Derreck Booth, a spokesman for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, said Nextdoor helps people stay informed about law enforcement issues in their specific area that are more likely to directly affect them. For example, if the Sheriff’s Office knows a certain neighborhood has experienced a series of entering auto cases, posts can target people in the neighborhood to inform them, he said.

“It helps some of those residents get information that just pertains to them versus a Facebook page would go out to anybody that follows us or looks at our timeline,” Booth said. “…(Residents) are liking it because it’s more tailored to where they live individually, versus if you live on the south end and we report something going on on the north end, those folks on the south end might not necessarily care about the north end.”

Booth said social media can either help or hinder criminal investigations, depending on the information people share. People who post suspect photos online may unintentionally be hurting the investigation, he said.

“A lot of folks, just being vigilant on their own, would post a suspect photo that they got from say, their surveillance system, prematurely. … A lot of times folks will stick a photo up there and it will prematurely tip the suspect off, ‘oh, they’re looking for me, I’m going to get out of the area, I’m going to change my appearance,’” Booth said.  

Deputy Jeremy Grindle with the Sheriff’s Office will be the main contact on Nextdoor, Booth said. Grindle introduced himself on the Sheriff’s Office’s Nextdoor page on July 3, and another recent post on the page warned residents about phone scams involving callers claiming to be from the Sheriff’s Office and asking for payment.

A post on the Gainesville Police page on July 3 reminded residents of fireworks laws ahead of the Independence Day holiday.

Both Booth and Van emphasized that people should still call 911 and report emergencies rather than reach out over social media.

“You’re going to get a delayed response with social media because we don’t monitor it 24/7,” Booth said. “We keep a pretty good eye on it, but if you see a crime or witness something, you really need to call and report it.”

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