While investigating a spate of evening car break-ins in a neighborhood on the west side of Bexar County, investigators from the Sheriff’s Office thought residents might have photos or surveillance camera footage that could help, but didn't have a quick way to request that information.
"So we went old school," Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said. "We literally sent my deputies from community policing door to door."
Seven hundred homes later, they did get some video and photos back. That case prompted the department to find a faster, more effective solution.
The county has now partnered with neighborhood social media site Nextdoor. Now Sheriffs can push crime alerts, prevention tips, and request assistance to specific neighborhoods instantly.
Salazar said he thinks the tool will be especially valuable in dealing with breaking news or active crime scenes.
“Rumor control is what we spend a lot of our time doing,” Salazar said. “And many times that bad information just kind of gets in the way of progress. Nextdoor will be another way to stay on top of that situation, and provide real-time information.”
Nextdoor’s Robbie Turner agreed.
“They are targeting their message down to the people they need to reach,” she said.
Nextdoor is primarily used to interact with neighbors, make announcements and raise awareness about problems, Turner said, and about 10 percent of the time those posts have to do with crime and safety.
The Sheriff’s department joins more than 1,000 other law enforcement agencies nationwide — including the SAPD — with this kind of free access.
Nextdoor users shouldn’t worry about authorities scanning their posts, she said, because law enforcement has limited access to post alerts, communicate with specific users, and respond to tips. The site will now allow users to send their posts directly to the Sheriff’s office.
"Part of the major tenets of Nextdoor is that neighborhoods are private,” she said. “So we want people to feel secure in those neighborhoods, (and) know that their conversations remain in the neighborhood."
Trent Boarnet is happy the county partnered with Nextdoor. He lives in Castle Hills, and said he was able to make neighbors aware of someone stealing his mail over the course of two weeks. He posted images and sent the video to local law enforcement. Now he can connect with one of 10 community police deputies through Nextdoor.
Turner said more than 1,350 — or an estimated 93 percent — of the county’s neighborhoods have a digital presence on the site.
Nextdoor does not release figures on the numbers of users it has.
The San Antonio Police Department has been using the site since 2014 with around 100 San Antonio Fear Free Environment officers. SAFFE officers are assigned to specific neighborhoods.
SAPD community SAFFE officer Scott Boehm said their partnership with Nextdoor has been a success. He said it was instrumental in helping SAPD capture burglars a couple years ago in Fossil Springs on the city’s northwest side.
After posting a warning about the break-ins, a Nextdoor user sent them the description of a suspicious car with a license plate number.
“I don’t think there’s been any burglaries out there in a couple of years now because of our partnership,” Boehm said.
Boehm said the department also uses Twitter and Facebook to put out information, but they don’t get the same feedback. Boehm believes it is because homeowners trend towards Nextdoor and he can target messages to them.